Title: When We Were Infinite
Author: Kelly Loy Gilbert
Pages: 368 pages
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review copy: Library
Summary: All Beth wants is for her tight-knit circle of friends — Grace Nakamura, Brandon Lin, Sunny Chen, and Jason Tsou — to stay together. With her family splintered and her future a question mark, these friends are all she has — even if she sometimes wonders if she truly fits in with them. Besides, she’s certain she’ll never be able to tell Jason how she really feels about him, so friendship will have to be enough.
Then Beth witnesses a private act of violence in Jason’s home, and the whole group is shaken. Beth and her friends make a pact to do whatever it takes to protect Jason, no matter the sacrifice. But when even their fierce loyalty isn’t enough to stop Jason from making a life-altering choice, Beth must decide how far she’s willing to go for him—and how much of herself she’s willing to give up.
From award-winning author Kelly Loy Gilbert comes a powerful, achingly romantic drama about the secrets we keep, from each other and from ourselves, perfect for fans of Permanent Record and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. [Image and summary via Goodreads]
Review: Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely loved Picture Us in the Light (review here!), which you should definitely read if you haven’t already. It’s beautifully written and just so *clenches fist* good. But before I get sidetracked talking about how great Picture Us in the Light is — and yes, I have bugged so many of my friends into reading it — let’s talk about When We Were Infinite.
Before reading When We Were Infinite, you should check the trigger warnings at the start of the book for: a suicide attempt, conversations about suicide, instances of suicidal ideation. In addition, When We Were Infinite includes instances of abuse. The book isn’t a light read, so do what’s best for you when it comes to reading.
Like Picture Us in the Light, When We Were Infinite is set in the Bay Area, and centers an Asian American protagonist. Friendship is very much at the heart of this book, and the main story revolves around Beth and her close group of Asian American friends. And well, I’m not going to get into the plot because that’s what the summary is for.
What I want to talk about is how I felt seen by When We Were Infinite, even more so than Picture Us in the Light. Both books are set in a very specific experience and environment that I almost never see depicted in YA — and when I do see it depicted, they just don’t get it right. There’s a sort of morbid fascination in media with this image of high-achieving Asian American students, and their portrayal is generally cartoonish, stereotypical, and one-note… and having attended a majority Asian high school in the Bay Area, I definitely have opinions on this.
When We Were Infinite and Picture Us in the Light get it right — terrifyingly right. What I loved about When We Were Infinite specifically was that it centered a group of Asian American friends. Not a group of friends with one or, gasp, two Asians. But a whole group, like the group of friends I had in high school. When We Were Infinite deftly captures what it means to have this seemingly unbreakable group of friends and all the ups and downs that come with it — fighting,and drifting apart and keeping secrets, and trying to navigate how much you’re willing to sacrifice for each other and whether you should even be doing that sacrificing.
There’s so much more to this book than the above, but that’s what stood out to me. It struck very close to home, given how much of my own life is reflected in it, and ultimately, that’s what I love about it. That my strangely specific experience can appear within the pages of an actual, real book. So of course I’ll be bugging everyone I grew up with to read this book as well.
When We Were Infinite is a devastating and vividly written read, and I wholeheartedly recommend it — though be warned, you will be crying for at least 50% of the book. And again, please check the trigger warnings. They are there for a reason.
Recommendation: Buy it now! Like, right now.
Further reading: An interview with Kelly Loy Gilbert on BookPage