Title: The Infinite Noise
Series: The Bright Sessions: Book One
Author: Lauren Shippen
Publisher: Tor Teen
Length: 328 Pages
Category: Teen Fiction
At a Glance: Every part of this story is handled with honesty and sincerity. The Infinite Noise is a metaphor, a really beautiful one, about acknowledging that everyone is fighting their own battles, and that sometimes we all need help to get through them.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Caleb Michaels is a sixteen-year-old champion running back. Other than that his life is pretty normal. But when Caleb starts experiencing mood swings that are out of the ordinary for even a teenager, his life moves beyond “typical.”
Caleb is an Atypical, an individual with enhanced abilities. Which sounds pretty cool except Caleb’s ability is extreme empathy—he feels the emotions of everyone around him. Being an empath in high school would be hard enough, but Caleb’s life becomes even more complicated when he keeps getting pulled into the emotional orbit of one of his classmates, Adam. Adam’s feelings are big and all-consuming, but they fit together with Caleb’s feelings in a way that he can’t quite understand.
Caleb’s therapist, Dr. Bright, encourages Caleb to explore this connection by befriending Adam. As he and Adam grow closer, Caleb learns more about his ability, himself, his therapist—who seems to know a lot more than she lets on—and just how dangerous being an Atypical can be.
Review: Lauren Shippen’s debut novel, The Infinite Noise, was born as a podcast called The Bright Sessions. Shippen was inspired to create it as a means of personal expression, looking through a fictionalized lens at her own anxiety, which she discusses in this article in Psychology Today, and asking, “What if?”. What sprung from that not-so-simple question was a SciFi look at mental health and therapy, and that What if? flourished into an ensemble cast of characters who form a secret society of Atypicals—people with SuperExtra powers that prompt them to seek help and advice for ways to cope with those abilities. Dr. Bright is that therapist, and this novelization of the podcast series is a look at the life of one teenage empath, Caleb Michaels, and Adam Hayes, the boy who makes Caleb’s powers a bit more bearable.
Because being in high school when you can feel everyone’s feelings is a complete nightmare.
If you can imagine being able to feel the emotions of every single person around you—the fear, the anxiety, the depression, the sparks of joy along with the flashes of anger, the love, the hate, the apathy and every other feeling in the lexicon of the human experience—and then multiply that by the infinite noise of a high school full of teenagers, never being entirely sure which emotions are your own and which are being projected onto you, you’ll get a clear picture of what Caleb faces every day. The accumulation of emotions becomes debilitating at times, affecting his ability to focus in class, and when, one day, everything boils over and a bully’s and Caleb’s own anger combine, Caleb combusts. He reacts physically, which is completely out of character for him. He lays Tyler out in the hallway at school, and that’s when Caleb is sent to Dr. Bright for counselling.
While Dr. Bright is, of course, a significant cog in the machine of this story, she is not the story’s protagonist. She serves a specific role, and her characterization doesn’t go much deeper than that of sounding board for Caleb’s, and her other patients’, own joys, fears, frustrations, and anger. The lead roles in the story are served by both Caleb and Adam, in alternating points of view, and the story is not only about Caleb’s extra sensory ability but also acts as a candid and compassionate look at depression. Caleb learns to put various colors to certain emotions, but Adam’s color is special to Caleb. Adam’s color combines with Caleb’s in a way that means Adam is an unwitting complement to Caleb’s power, which is why Adam—who mostly tries to fly under the radar, hiding out in a quiet corner of the library when not at home or in class, but manages to draw unwanted attention anyway—is baffled when the star running back of the football team begins to seek out his company. Adam is Caleb’s calm in the storm of emotions that batter him from all sides, all day, every day. Except for those occasions when Adam’s depression makes Caleb feel like he’s drowning right along with the boy he’s slowly falling for.
What happens next is…weird. The light of joy doesn’t go out, but it kind of stutters and bursts. He’s still happy, but there’s an added layer of fluttering anxiety that begins to cut through. The pulse of his nerves is out of sync with my heart, which right now feels like it’s going to spring from my chest. The battling rhythms making my skin tingle and my forehead break out in a sweat. All of a sudden, I’m a boy made of nerve endings alone.
There comes a moment, after Caleb gives thorough examination to the ways Adam makes him feel, or, rather, helps him not to feel so much, that the epiphanous moment arrives when he realizes that he wants nothing more than to kiss Adam silly, and Shippen captures all the emotions of that moment so beautifully. The exhilaration isn’t the only thing that resonates through the story, though. The sweetness of watching Adam and Caleb falling in love is tempered by the times that Adam is “too depressed to function” and the ways in which he battles with the truth of that and wears the masks, the “I’m fines” and the “It’s nothings”, that constitutes the desire to hide that part of himself (and more) from Caleb, because this is the way “normal” people function.
Every part of this story is handled with honesty and sincerity. It’s not a story about superheroes and supervillains, though there is a mysterious organization that hovers in the background and leaves more questions than answers at its mention, as do Adam’s parents. The Atypicals don’t go out and battle dark forces of evil to save their town from destruction. Rather, The Infinite Noise is a metaphor, a really beautiful one, about acknowledging that everyone is fighting their own battles, and that sometimes we all need help to get through them. It is the story of two boys who learn to trust in themselves and in each other, and that the road isn’t always easily travelled. Caleb discovering he isn’t alone is something everyone can relate to, and Adam discovering that he is strong, even in his most vulnerable moments, resonates.
Music plays a role in Caleb and Adam’s relationship as well, and while not as integral to the story as in some YA fiction I’ve read recently, it instills a soundtrack to connect the reader to the characters and their story. Caleb and Adam finally accepting that through all the missteps and miscommunications that they are happier together than apart, was the perfect ending to this first book in the Bright Sessions series.
You can buy The Infinite Noise here:
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