Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release: May 19, 2015
By the author of the critically acclaimed Wild Awake, a beautiful coming-of-age story about deep friendship, the weight of secrets, and the healing power of nature.A Sense of the Infinite is a book about friendship, and a phenomenal one at that. As a huge contemporary reader, I have read countless novels focusing on the relationship between friends, but Hilary T. Smith's most recent novel does not merely melt into the masses of other "friendship books." Thanks to its realistic progression and gorgeous, empathetic writing, it is one of the best books of its kind that I have ever read.
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.
Hilary T. Smith's second novel is a gorgeously written meditation on identity, loss, and the bonds of friendship.
When I started reading A Sense of the Infinite, I first fell in love with the highs of Annabeth's relationship with Noe. The two characters have been best friends since freshman year, and not without a good reason—although this novel focuses on their growing apart, readers still get to see moments when they connect and help each other through difficult situations. Smith delves deeply into describing the girls' friendship, showing how close the characters are and how much they mean to each other at the novel's onset. As a result, readers will understand and empathize with the loss Annabeth feels when Noe begins to slip away.
For example, my favorite positive aspect of their friendship is Annabeth's ability to be friends with Noe's boyfriend, Steven. Annabeth and Steven engage in clever and strictly platonic banter, becoming close in their own right and adding another layer of friendship to the storyline. I found this element of the plot to be impressively realistic, and I applaud Smith for avoiding childish melodrama and jealousy. Despite their faults, Annabeth and Noe trust each other enough to each have a relationship with Steven, which truly makes their friendship stand out.
But as Annabeth and Noe begin to drift apart, the story becomes less about friendship and more about self development. Just as Smith fully fleshes out her story's friendships, she also gives Annabeth a complex personality that grows with all the trials she experiences—both related and unrelated to Noe. I cheered relentlessly as I watched Annabeth go from basing all her decisions around Noe to making her own choices. And as the protagonist grapples with long-buried family secrets and deals with other personal conflicts that arise, she learns so much and, at some point along the way, becomes an adult. By the end of the story, Annabeth has transformed from Noe's other half to her own independent person, keeping readers invested in her development along the way.
Complete with plenty of senior-year milestones with which many teenagers will identify, A Sense of the Infinite is a wonderfully relatable and empathetic story. The writing—while not quite as vivid and distinctive as the writing in Smith's first novel, Wild Awake—is emotional, descriptive, and paced to capture the flow of real life. I cannot recommend this novel enough to readers looking for a realistic contemporary, whether they want to escape their real life or find a story that mirrors it brilliantly.