An Atypical Love Story: A Review of The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen
Words By Kathy Nguyen
Published September 24, 2019 by Tor Teen.
Even superheroes go to therapy. That’s the concept of Lauren Shippen’s debut novel The Infinite Noise. You might know Shippen as the creator and head writer of The Bright Sessions, an award-winning science fiction podcast tracking the lives of therapy patients termed Atypicals for their supernatural abilities. If you’re a fan of The Bright Sessions, then you’re in luck; The Infinite Noise is the first book in a YA trilogy that will expand on Shippen’s thrillingly original universe.
The book opens with Caleb Michaels, a sixteen-year-old football player who’s having trouble concentrating at school and keeping his mood in check. It turns out that both issues are due to a nascent ability to experience the emotional states of those around him. Caleb is a special type of Atypical, what his new therapist Dr. Bright calls an empath. Through Dr. Bright, he learns how to distinguish other people’s emotions from his own and how to manage the onslaught of stress, anxiety, and dread that festers in any high school.
Only one classmate’s emotions are different. Adam Hayes is an intelligent, if lonely, student whose emotions Caleb describes as “always a shade of blue. . . .not blue like the sky; blue like the ocean.” When Caleb tells Dr. Bright about Adam’s calming effect on him, she encourages him to reach out. And so, when Caleb asks to join him at lunch, Adam is stunned. But Adam has his own secret that he’s been keeping from everybody except his parents, one he worries no one—least of all Caleb—could accept.
The Infinite Noise is more than just a book about teens with superpowers trying to avoid suspicious organizations that seem intent on experimenting on them—although there’s some of that too! At its core, it is a character study of two teens trying to belong despite how different they think they are from their peers. We follow Caleb and Adam as they help each other navigate the treacherous terrain that is high school and eventually fall in love. What’s so remarkable about this book is the emphasis it places on the feelings of loneliness, insecurity, and distrust we experience as youth (and, let’s be real here, as adults). The book tackles the ever-pertinent issues of sexuality, mental health, and bullying in an appreciable effort to show the reality many teens face today.
As much as the book depicts the very real and very dark places we sometimes find ourselves in, it should also be commended for demonstrating an underlying but steadfast faith that there will always be a way out. The Infinite Noise is a book that illustrates the deep value of support systems, those predictable and those not, those that are already in place and those that are slowly being found. There is no shame, for example, associated with Caleb receiving therapy as an empath. Both Caleb’s and Adam’s parents (and, in Caleb’s case, his sister as well) offer reassurance and encouragement. As the book progresses, Caleb’s and Adam’s social circles expand to include friends both in and out of school.
Because the book is so rich in secondary characters, however, they could have perhaps been utilized more in advancing and/or complicating the plot. There’s a moment when Adam finds himself sitting on the bleachers at a high school football game, sandwiched between two people he might actually consider friends. It’s gratifying to witness Adam find companionship among his peers after years of isolation, but it would have been sweeter if we’d had more insight into the development of these friendships. Instead, one of the two characters disappears for large stretches at a time prior to the game and the other is introduced too late in the text to expand upon at length. For now, these secondary characters act as reservoirs of potential, although it’s possible that they will take on more prominent roles in the two sequels.
If you’re a fan of endearing teen romances, plots that hint at secret societies lurking in the shadows, and snappy dialogue (Shippen’s podcasting background really shines here), you might want to pull The Infinite Noise off those shelves. Adolescence can be trying whether you’re an Atypical or not, but this book makes it easier to believe you don’t have to go through it alone.