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When Best Friends Aren’t Forever

Hilary T. Smith pens a beautifully bittersweet obituary for friendship with A Sense of the Infinite.

When Best Friends Aren’t Forever

BOOK REPORT for A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith

Cover Story: Condolence Card
BFF Charm: Big Sister
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Talky Talk: Poignant
Bonus Factors: Friend Break-up, Non-After School Special
Relationship Status: Serious

Cover Story: Condolence Card

Fortunately for all of us, once you get past the stock photo, you get to read a compelling story rather than inane platitudes about life and death.

The Deal:

Annabeth and Noe are inseparable in that codependent way unique to adolescent best friends. Noe, charismatic and controlling, is the sun to Annabeth's thoughtful and mousy moon, and they're heading into senior year with college plans (same school, natch) already in place. But when Annabeth makes the split-second decision to lose her virginity after the homecoming dance, she finds herself, for the first time, stepping out of sync with Noe. That night sets off a chain of events that disrupt their rhythm, and no matter how hard Annabeth tries, she can't seem to recover the beat of their friendship.

BFF Charm: Big Sister

I fell in love with Annabeth in the second chapter of this book, when she referred to herself as, "Annabeth Schultz, Deeply Flawed and Uncertain Human." Lest you think she's being a typical angsty teen, you should know that girlfriend is weighed down by some serious baggage. Her mother got pregnant with her in college after being date-raped, and this knowledge haunts Annabeth with fears that she'll turn into a monster like her father. She feels everything to the utmost degree, and that makes her both painfully sensitive and intensely empathetic.

She definitely could've used an older sister to give her pep talks and a thousand hugs, and I like to think that she could hear me through the pages, whispering to her to be brave and stand up for herself. Also, being her big sister would have given me the ability to march into that school and smack Noe across the face, which I reeeeeeally wanted to do.

Bonus BFF charm goes to Steven, Noe's boyfriend, whom I completely and utterly adore.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Aside from Annabeth's first sexual experience, which is sweet if not exactly romantic, the story focuses on the platonic relationship between Noe and Annabeth. And given the lack of young adult books centered around female friendship, I am totally cool with that.

Talky Talk: Poignant

Hilary T. Smith really sharpened her pen for this one, because there were countless passages that slayed me with emotion. Annabeth's voice springs from such a depth of sadness, and yet her words are never burdened by it. Clear and soaring, they resonate with a bittersweet ache that is particularly powerful when Noe is concerned:

Now and then, Noe and I would exchange a glance, or we'd walk home after gymnastics with our arms around each other's shoulders, feeling the hugeness of things.

When we get our tattoos, we kept saying.

When we have our dorm room.

When we open our restaurant.

I thought of the birdcalls in Mom's book. The birdcall for Noe and Annabeth: When-we, when-we, when-we.

The imagery in this novel packs a punch as it slowly nudges up the window into Annabeth's soul. I savored her way of seeing things, like this moment on a bus to a gymnastics meet:

I watched the town flash past outside the muddy bus window. Strip mall, gas station, then the highway. I wondered what would happen if someone opened the door of the bus and let us all fly away. Girls in spangled leotards hopping through the windows, pecking uselessly at the snow. Making eyes at themselves in toy mirrors while the winter wind froze first their spindly legs, then their blue feathers, then finally their tiny, twinkly hearts.

A Sense of the Infinite is heartbreaking in the best way-- in a beautiful way.

Bonus Factor: Friend Break-up

When I moderated a BookCon panel called "BFFs Forever" last May, we discussed the idea of friendship break-ups and how rarely they appear in young adult literature. Parting ways with a close friend can be much more devastating than losing a girlfriend or boyfriend, especially because it feels like something that's not supposed to happen-- romantic break-ups are inevitable, but friendships are supposed to endure, and when they don't, it's particularly jarring.

As painful as it was to witness, the deterioration of Annabeth's friendship with Noe was my favorite aspect of this book, because it truly captured the full spectrum of high school bestie-hood, from devoted possessiveness:

Her friendship was a jewel I guarded like a dragon, keeping it always in the crook of my hand.

To that jealous kind of sadness, when you realize that your kindred spirit may have found other kindred spirits:

There is something haunting about seeing pictures of your friends having a good time without you, even if you were having a good time in parallel, even if you were having the best time of your entire life. Suddenly, you have one memory and your friend has another, and you'll never be able to say, Remember that time? and never laugh again, remembering.

Thanks to Smith's piercing insights, the death of Noe and Annabeth's relationship will strike a chord with anyone who's had to split up with a friend.

Some friendships ended all at once and some were like Athenian ships, each part slowly replaced over the years until one day, even if you had never left the deck, you couldn't recognize it anymore. Lately when I talked to Noe I felt like one of the old people who came to the ice-cream shop year after year, even though the soul of the place had long ago drained out of it: they knew it wasn't the same anymore, but they simply didn't know where else to go.

Bonus Factor: Non-After School Special

Not gonna lie, there's a lot of drama hovering over the book, from date rape to abortion to eating disorders, but Smith wrangles it all with great care.

Casting Call:

Olivia Cooke as Annabeth

Dove Cameron as Noe

Relationship Status: Serious

There's no way I could keep it casual with a book that spoke to me with such stirring honesty, especially about topics that most other novels ignore. Sure, it left my heart a little bruised, but that just makes me feel its impact even more.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Katherine Tegen Books. I received neither cocktails nor money in exchange for this review. A Sense of the Infinite is available now.

Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).