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

The world needs more books like A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith.

More quiet books that don’t have a catchy hook, but instead have amazing character development.

More books about female friendship, and how fraught with complications they can be during adolescence.

A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith
Published: May 19th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperTeen
ISBN: 9780062184733
Source: ARC from publisher
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | Library
Genre: young adult contemporary

Synopsis: 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.

A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. SMith

My thoughts: I’d been in a bit of a reading slump when I picked up the advanced readers’ copy of this book, and it ended up being just what I need it. The voice was so refreshing and raw, I was instantly drawn into this story. Smith’s writing is fierce and intimate, with startling metaphors that are immediate rather than overwritten and ornamental.

This is the story of Annabeth’s senior year of high school. For years, she’s been buoyed by her close friendship with Noe. But now Noe is pulling away from her, and she’s feeling alone and uncertain. Ultimately, she works through these issues — and several others.

So this is where I talk about those issues, so if you don’t want to read potential spoilers (that won’t really spoil the reading experience, in my opinion, but that’s not for me to decide…)

There are lots of issues that teens face presented in this book.

But what I loved about this novel is that the issues weren’t all consuming, even if they were serious. Annabeth has a magical evening at a school dance with a boy she doesn’t know all that well, and has sex in a greenhouse, crushing some orchids in the process.

She gets pregnant.

She has an abortion.

Her best friend, Noe, definitely has an eating disorder, and though she feels conflicted about it, Annabeth tells their gymnastic coach when pressured. She has issues with eating, too.

Her mother conceived her as a result of a rape. She’s trying to deal with that.

Noe’s boyfriend, who becomes friends with Annabeth, might be gay, and is definitely depressed and has attempted suicide.

But the story isn’t “about” any of that in the way that issue novels tackle these subjects.

These are just part of the story, as are Noe’s obsession with gymnastics or Annabeth’s love of the outdoors and the wilderness.

This is a book that is ultimately about the pains of growing up, and sometimes growing apart from your friends who have anchored you for a good portion of your life, even if it has just been a few years. It’s about tough decisions, like who you want to be or what you want to do with your life.

I had a completely different perspective than the School Library Journal review, which found the book “full of dark decisions” and the secondary characters “flat and underdeveloped.” I thought Annabeth’s character had incredible voice, and that the decisions she makes and glimpses she gives of secondary characters were true to that voice. This is a book that doesn’t talk down to teens or tie up difficult issues in a neat bow.

I think Annabeth’s story will make a real difference to some readers, and one that I hope finds its way into their hands.

Recommended for fans of: This is going to be a great fit for more fickle YA readers, who are yearning for a book about self-discovery without romance being the catalyst. Fans of the real and unfiltered voice you find in Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. I’d suggest readers who enjoy A Sense of the Infinite check out some more underappreciated YA with lots of voice, like Fingerprints of You by Kristin-Paige Madonia or The Sharp Time by Mary O’Connell. Or, suggest it to people who like sleeper YA hits like Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes or How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Staniford.

Second opinions:

Kelly Jensen at Book Riot: “Smith doesn’t shy away from hard stuff in the book and her writing is fluid, poetic, and engaging. Annabeth is imperfect, but she’s quite likable, and it’s hard not to hope she figures out where it is she needs to be, with or without Noe by her side. Change is hard and change can hurt, but that pain is worth it in this one. Smith is one of my favorite authors writing in YA and this book, quiet as it might be, feels like a classic in the making.”

 S. E. Smith at This Ain’t Living: “Smith packs a lot into this text, without making it feel cramped. On the one hand, there are her characters: Rich, alive, fully realised, complicated, and distinctive, something I have really come to expect from her writing and delight in after Wild Awake. I know that she’s capable of building great characters within great worlds, and she definitely demonstrated that here as in her first book. Her characters are amazing, and so are the relationships between them. It can be difficult to construct authentic young relationships, especially when they are under pressure; it’s easy to take cheap routes and shortcuts, and Smith didn’t do that.”

Kirkus: “Annabeth emerges as a complicated character doing her best. Smith’s prose is knock-down gorgeous. A fearless writer ably tackles a difficult story.”

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith

  1. Thanks for this review. I read Smith’s debut and I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan so I’ve been curious about what direction her next novel might take. This may not be my cup of tea but I’m definitely filing it away for RA recommending.

    1. And I only say that because I know some people might ONLY see that review, and miss out on a great book. There will always be people who don’t click with a book or miss something — I do that myself sometimes (I am slogging through Jellicoe Road and wondering when it starts to get good?!)

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