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Review: A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Sense of the Infinite
Hilary T. Smith

Genre: YA Contemporary
Hardback: 400 Pages
Publication: May 19, 2015
by Katherine Tegen Books

It's senior year of high school, and Annabeth is ready—ready for everything she and her best friend, Noe, have been planning and dreaming. But there are some things Annabeth isn't prepared for, like the constant presence of Noe's new boyfriend. Like how her relationship with her mom is wearing and fraying. And like the way the secret she's been keeping hidden deep inside her for years has started clawing at her insides, making it hard to eat or even breathe.

But most especially, she isn't prepared to lose Noe.

For years, Noe has anchored Annabeth and set their joint path. Now Noe is drifting in another direction, making new plans and dreams that don't involve Annabeth. Without Noe's constant companionship, Annabeth's world begins to crumble. But as a chain of events pulls Annabeth further and further away from Noe, she finds herself closer and closer to discovering who she's really meant to be—with her best friend or without.


Full disclosure - I saved this book for one of the last of the recent review batch because I normally prefer sci-fi/fantasy and upon reading the inside dust jacket it seemed like just another YA novel about best frannnds! that are getting ready for college.

If this is you, if you read that summary and gave it a pass ("the secret she's been keeping hidden deep inside her for years has started clawing at her insides"??), maybe go back and give it a chance instead. It's a sometimes-painfully realistic look at real friendship, drifting away from each other and finding new connections with different people. It's about growing pains, growing up, and growing apart. The characters are not perfect - they make mistakes and hard decisions, they get angry and sad and gossip and joke around in class, they tell secrets and keep them at all the wrong times. And that lets it transcend the high school setting to lead you to realizations that we all still need sometimes.

My quick plot synopsis - two best friends, one of whom has been "set[ting] their joint path." They start growing apart, life happens, and in the end the main character begins to find herself "not herself+friend."

The central friendship is that of Annabeth and Noe, who start the novel as BFFs. Noe has a new boyfriend, Steven. Steven befriends Annabeth, and they give each other the support that they used to give (and get) only from Noe. This was one of the most beautiful parts of the story for me, seeing Annabeth's friendship with Steven blossom as Annabeth and Noe's withered. I was really glad that the author didn't take the obvious route of having them only linked through/competing over Noe.

The story shows splinter friendships as well, which makes the characters more multi-dimensional (who really is friends with just one person?). Old friends who like you more than you like them, new friends you make at a party and then never see again, friends of your cousin who share cookies with you during a college visit... they all weave a rich tapestry of human relations and connections.

I loved that the 'lessons' of this story are delicately but thoroughly addressed - anorexia and bulimia are woven into the story so subtly you share in the characters' realizations of their dangers only chapters later, when all the warning signs have piled up. This is infinitely preferable to the usual dramatic irony approach of "I decide to go throw up in the toilet because I think I'm overweight" where the characters are clueless but the readers are clubbed over the head.

My only criticism would be that Annabeth's deep, dark, secret doesn't seem quite so deep and dark when it's finally revealed. It's one of those moments where you're practically yelling at a character to just talk about it already so the misunderstandings can be cleared away. I can see how it shaped the plot as the driving agent behind Annabeth's clinging friendship with Noe, but I can't help feeling that it was mildly contrived, and the climax of that secret felt out of character (fight rather than flight).

Overall, this was actually one of my favorites from the batch I reviewed. Give it a shot, then go hug your friends.

"I remembered who I had been when I needed Noe the most, and who she had been when she needed me. Maybe none of us can tell what we're becoming until we become it, like seedlings instinctively groping for certain nutrients without knowing why."

A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 4.5 stars

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1 comment on "Review: A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith"
  1. It's always nice when a book exceeds our expectations. I guess we shouldn't judge a book by its cover! Thanks for the great review.


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