The Infinite Noise (The Bright Sessions #1), by Lauren Shippen
Publish Date: September 24, 2019
Published by: Tor Teen
Genre: YA Paranormal/Romance/LGBTQ+
My Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5 stars)
**I received this as an ARC from the publisher through my workplace in return for an honest review.**
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.
I’m not really sure where to begin with this one. Part of me liked it, for sure, especially since I felt like I didn’t want to put it down a lot of times. But the other part of me felt…disconnected from the characters and storyline at times too. It had some good characters and a very cute and honest romance, but I also found myself at times feeling like I wasn’t completely invested in the characters and story.
I hadn’t actually listened to The Bright Sessions podcast before discovering this book at work, but it was on my list of podcasts to listen to eventually (recommended by a friend). I ended up using this book as a chance to start listening to it, and tried to keep the podcast in a near exact timeline as what was happening in the book. I almost nailed it, but what can you do? As a result, I could see where things in the book filled in gaps in the podcast, and vice versa, but the book by itself felt like it was missing something. There is all this mystery about the AM that is shown in the podcast, that only gets lightly touched upon in the book. If I hadn’t been listening to the podcast, I feel like I would have been more than a little lost when that finally poked its nose into the storyline. It wasn’t until towards the end, and since this book is mainly about Caleb and Adam, I suppose it doesn’t have to make as much of an impact, but I just feel like it should have?
The writing was good for the most part – the dialogue definitely kept my attention, but the descriptions of the emotions that Caleb was feeling had my head reeling at times. There was just one too many metaphors at a given moment for them, and it felt a little all over the place. There was also just a lot of time jumps in the book. Things would happen, and then suddenly it was two weeks, a month, later and I felt like things were moving but also not moving at the same time if that makes any sense.
One thing I did have trouble with was when the author would write around dialogue from the podcast in the book. For some reason there were scenes where, when the podcast timeline coincided with the book timline, the characters would feel one way but say something that went completely against their emotions and desires that they were narrating at the time. I know the podcast was written first, so why wasn’t the rest of what they were feeling work more in tandem with the dialogue that already existed? I get that not everything that is said out loud reflects what’s actually happening internally, but there were big jumps between the emotion and the actual words being said that left me utterly confused how point A got to Point B.
The plot was definitely a slow-build, mostly focused on the romance and Caleb’s growing control over his ability, but even the conflict and climax at the end felt a little…disappointingly bland considering the circumstances of these characters. I don’t know how to describe it. It was a bit of a “that’s all?” moment for me I suppose. I guess with listening to the podcast at the same time, I was anticipating more of an involvement with Dr. Bright’s agenda and the AM, but not really apparently.
And I hate to say it, but Caleb and Adam didn’t really do much for me in terms of characterization. I liked the personalities that they had, but I felt like there wasn’t much to them. Caleb is the nice popular football playing guy who struggles with his newfound ability to sense other peoples’ emotions, and Adam is the lonely smart kid who likes Shakespeare and struggles with depression. But that was it. I didn’t really see much character growth over the course of the novel – no big changes in how they see themselves and how they interact with the world. There were small ones, but nothing that felt like it made a big impact on me as a reader. I could see them as good and interesting characters, but there was just something missing to really make them come alive off the page for me, I think.
I did enjoy the slow-burn romance, and seeing both Adam and Caleb struggling to figure out how to be a good friend, and then boyfriend, to each other. It was good to see that they weren’t perfect, they had their flaws, with and without each other, but that they worked through their arguments to come back together in the end.
And that’s what took up most of the story – the friendship-turned-romance – and while I enjoyed it, like I said, I feel like there was something missing. On the one hand, I get it – Caleb is a high schooler trying to lead a somewhat normal life and have a somewhat normal relationship, so yeah it’s going to mostly be mundane, but I think it was mundane to the point where the characters just didn’t become fully three-dimensional to me and thus I was left feeling a little underwhelmed in the long run.
I hate giving this a 3 star rating because I enjoyed reading it while I was physically reading it, but there were just so many moments that had me feeling disconnected from the characters, at a loss with all the metaphors about emotion, and just feeling like something was missing that I was only able to get by adding the podcast in now and then. And I think that’s what really made me feel like I was enjoying it while I read it – listening to the podcast at the same time. Because there were more characters, more mysteries, and just so much more happening in the podcast than in the book itself. But those characters and mysteries didn’t affect Caleb and Adam for the majority of the book’s plotline, so they weren’t necessary. Which I get, but also…I think I just preferred the podcast honestly.
It’s cool to have a book based on a podcast, but only if you include enough information that the podcast isn’t completely necessary to fill in the blanks. By itself it definitely makes the reader want to listen to the podcast to get that information, but if they are drawn to the book for its synopsis and not its connection to another media, then I think they might feel like something was missing like I did.