Fiction Reviews


The Infinite Noise

(2019) Lauren Shippen, Tor Teen, £9.99 / Can$24.50 / US$17.99, hrdbk, 333pp, ISBN 978-1-250-29751-8

 

This book is a debut novel based on a podcast by Lauren Shippen, The Bright Sessions, which was broadcast between 2015 and 2018.  It was a science fiction podcast that followed a group of young people, each with supernatural powers, as they underwent therapy sessions with the mysterious Dr Bright.  I have to admit that for me The Bright Sessions flew under the radar and I wasnít aware of it before reading this novel, but it had enough of a following to persuade Tor Teen to invest in the book.

The Infinite Noise follows two teenage boys, Caleb and Adam, as they attempt to navigate high school as well as their complicated home lives and adolescence.  Adam is the nerd, a bookish, awkward boy who suffers from depression that he spends much of his time trying to hide from his family.  Caleb is the jock, a tall, handsome football player who ticks all the popular kid boxes.  He is also an Atypical, which means that he has enhanced abilities, which are just starting to make themselves felt. Calebís particular ability allows him to feel the emotions of others around him, to experience how they are truly feeling rather than the image they try to project to the outside world.  To cope with this, Caleb is sent to therapy sessions with Dr Bright, who tries to help him manage his experiences and figure out a way to cope with the fact that he can sense the deepest hidden feelings of those around him.  In particular, Caleb is drawn to Adam.  Hooking an empath to someone with depression wasnít something with which I was entirely convinced, because it would seem to be one of the worst possible combinations.  The explanation given is that somehow Caleb finds Adamís emotions tolerable in a way that he doesnít experience with other people.  As a result, Dr Bright persuades Caleb to try and make friends with Adam.

And so an unlikely friendship develops between the two of them.  What Calebís empathy fails to tell him is that Adam is gay and has a crush on him.  He is also unaware that Adamís parents are researchers looking into the possibility of inducing Atypical abilities in otherwise normal patients.  To be fair, Adam isnít entirely sure what his parents do either, so itís not Calebís fault that he misses this pretty important fact. Caleb seems unaware of his own seχuality and seems to spend very little time thinking about it (other than feeling a bit confused when one of his female classmates asks him to a school dance and thinks it is a date).  Caleb is advised by Dr Bright and his parents not to let anyone know about his abilities, because unspecified people will harm him if they find out, and so struggles with his desire to tell Adam everything and his fear that bad things will happen if he does.

The book is written in first person present for both characters, switching between the two of them.&nsp; This worked well enough and the two were distinctly different in terms of character voice, so it wasnít confusing. First person present is a common choice for YA (young adult) so regular YA readers will be used to it but it doesnít work for everyone: be aware of that if you are one of the readers who actively hates it!

Much of the book focuses on the emotions felt by the two characters, and a lot of time is spent with them thinking (and perhaps over thinking) about how they feel.  Given that Caleb is an empath and Adam depressed, itís to be expected, but it has the unfortunate side effect of making the story overall feel quite slow, as not a lot actually happens.  The romance felt a little flat and there wasnít a lot of sexual tension between the two of them, or a lot of conflict, probably because their friendship fell into place so easily and it felt like neither of them had anything to lose.  It had such potential, given that they were set up as a popular athlete and a bullied nerd (itís a classic 'opposites attract' trope precisely because it works so well to create conflict) but in the end, they both fell into the relationship far too easily and the problem with Adamís parents didnít feel dangerous enough to me.

I would have liked to see more exploration of the Atypicals Ė what they are, what causes their differences, what it means for their futures.  I would also have liked to see more of Dr Bright and how Calebís parents were able to find a therapist who specialised in treating people like Caleb.  Perhaps the book works better if you are a fan of the podcast and already familiar with these characters, but as someone who was not, I found that I didnít connect with either of them.  Iíd be the first to admit that as a middle-aged mother of two I am not the target audience and that the self-absorption of the characters and their in depth examination of every word uttered and every feeling might have more appeal for a much younger reader.

I would recommend this for teens who have enjoyed books such as The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, or younger Marvel graphic novels such as Ms Marvel.

Jane OíReilly

 


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