Lauren Shippen’s The Infinite Noise is a stunning, original debut novel based on her wildly popular and award-winning podcast The Bright Sessions.
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.
“What if the X-Men, instead of becoming superheroes, decided to spend some time in therapy?” (Vox on The Bright Sessions)
Title : The Infinite Noise
Author : Lauren Shippen
Series : The Bright Sessions (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA sci-fi/fantasy
Publisher : Tor Teen
Release Date : September 24, 2019
Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★
Hollis’ 3 star review
There’s a lot to love in THE INFINITE NOISE. Representation-wise, we have a protagonist who is Jewish and gay and plagued by depressive episodes, another who is.. well, we’re never given his orientation on page, and also an empath who struggles with the overflow of emotions and lashes out in rage. There’s also a ton of therapy. Positive therapy.
This world is based on a podcast where, as the book’s blurb says, “What if the X-Men, instead of becoming superheroes, decided to spend some time in therapy?” In this world, though, the people with powers, or extraordinary abilities, are Atypicals. And we learn of their existence through Caleb discovering his own abilities, that he’s an empath, with the help of Dr Bright.
The majority of this book is spent with Caleb trying to sort through and also keep from being overwhelmed by the emotions of his classmates and family. His mood swings, culminating in a fight, are a result from processing things he didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, and the aftermath is learning to deal. There’s a lot of talking through of emotions, as represented by colours, and trying to block out the infinite noise of it all. Which only seems to work when he’s alone or with Adam.
I get a moment of enjoying the silence before something inside of me tries to make itself known. Oh. Right. I have my own feelings. I sort of forgot about those.
Adam, who is lonely, alone, and depressed. Who has a hopeless crush on the big jock in his class. Who knows, as a tentative friendship begins, that Caleb is hiding something. But then again.. so is he.
Thinking about Adam makes me feel a little less like a sponge that doesn’t get a say in what it soaks up.
While I did like both characters, I’m not sure I liked either one all the time. They both make questionable decisions, both hide things for too long (and as of the end of this book, one is still hiding things), and.. I don’t know. I loved so much of them, but. Maybe I loved the idea of them a bit more than the reality of them sometimes.
Knowing someone’s feelings doesn’t give me a guidebook on how to respond to them. That I have to make up as I go along.
The back and forth between these two was tough. On the one hand, there’s a lot of baggage, uncertainty, and angst involved. On the other, I’m not even sure how Caleb identifies but while it took quite some time before he blinked and realized he wanted to kiss Adam, date Adam, there wasn’t much issue coming to terms with that. Nor for his family, either. With exception to a few slurs, there wasn’t really any conflict surrounding their characters’ sexualities. The real angst, beyond being sixteen and struggling with depression, with school, with the future, was surrounding an organization who targets Atypicals and who might be working for them; and how keeping Caleb’s secret was paramount.
I think, for all the good, what keeps this book from being great is the pacing. The latter half of the book changes a lot in both tone and scope and after all the big build-up of who is hiding what, I’m not really sure where we are in the end of it all. I know more books are to come (three, it looks like) but the summaries indicate they are to focus on other characters, so. If that’s true, I’m even less satisfied by this ending. At least for how it wraps for this pair.
I love the concept, therapy for superheroes, and it’s a very creative way to ease into the transition of adapting to new powers, but I guess I wanted a tighter focus on these two soft boys.. but also less time spent getting them together, if future books weren’t going to focus on them, and also an ending that was.. more. I don’t know that I’m explaining this well, but. That said, I would read on. I like this world. I love the unique perspective. I just hope book two, and subsequent books, are stronger.
** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **