Saturday, June 27, 2015

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

Title: A Sense of the Infinite
Author: Hilary T. Smith
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication date: May 19, 2015
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

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.

I was so thrilled to receive my copy of A Sense of the Infinite – I had read Hilary T. Smith's debut novel, Wild Awake, last year and became obsessed with it. And I mean obsessed. (I made a playlist and everything.) So naturally I was really looking forward to reading her new book.

A Sense of the Infinite is a silently powerful read with strong writing. Hilary T. Smith is so good with words – she knows exactly how to romance a character's internal dialogue, how to take a feeling or a thought or a daydream and magnify it and give it a life of its own. The short chapters and vignettes that are interspersed through the book are especially striking. Short and (bitter)sweet. Sometimes the little things pack a punch.

I put my hand on a tree's bark and felt a quiet current of friendship there, like an underground spring.
Maybe it wasn't too late for me to freeze in a snowbank. It sounded almost dreamy, almost pleasant.
"Annabeth's wandered out and frozen," they'd say. "It's very sad."

The characters in A Sense of the Infinite all feel realistic, too – almost painfully so. Noe reminded me of all the mean girls I knew in high school, how they could be so friendly in your Spanish class one year and then see straight through you the next. I appreciated Bob, her school dietician, and how even as a "minor" character, he evolved in her eyes and become significant to her. I like that richness in character development in a story. I like when characters are meaningful.

I loved Annabeth's cousin Ava: the way she was so horrible early on, the changes we saw in her later. It's so true to life, isn't it? Sometimes people knock us down and want to hurt us and make our life hell, and then you encounter them again years later, and the circumstances have changed completely, and you just move on and move forward. Steven, Noe's boyfriend, was my most unexpected love – and I loved him fiercely, for his determination to befriend Annabeth, for his solidarity with her, for his vulnerability and emotional struggles. They have such a beautiful, supportive relationship, and it was so nice to read.

Steven's tears and snot were soaking into my sweater. The daisies in his hair were getting crushed, the white petals curling in. I pulled the vial of lavender oil out of my pocket and quietly anointed him on the wrists, forehead, and heart, thinking that the mysterious thing about love is that you don't have to know what you're doing in order to do it exactly right.

Be forewarned – this book covers some intense and gritty themes. Rape, pregnancy, eating disorders, depression, suicide, coming out, self-harm/mutilation... To be honest, this is one of the big reasons I didn't love this book. And it's not unrealistic, per se – in fact, between high school and my first year in college, I had to face all but one of those things in some capacity – but it just made this book feel so heavy and just too much. It's a somber book, for sure. But it's also a story of evolving relationships, and a story of transformation as we watch Annabeth struggle and grow, and that lightness helps balance out the rest.

If I'm being honest, I went in expecting nothing less than sheer and utter brilliance, which is a lot to ask of anyone but also just goes to show you how much I love Hilary's writing and how much I trust in her ability to tell a compelling story. This book feels a lot more YA in a way that Wild Awake didn't – it's so much about high school dynamics, being on the cusp of change, the fickleness and cruelty of people... But it's sophisticated and mature and kind of disturbing and kind of monumental.

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