When We Were Infinite - book cover
Literature & Fiction
  • Publisher : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
  • Published : 09 Mar 2021
  • Pages : 368
  • ISBN-10 : 1534468218
  • ISBN-13 : 9781534468214
  • Language : English

When We Were Infinite

From award-winning author Kelly Loy Gilbert comes a "beautifully, achingly cathartic" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) 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.

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.

Editorial Reviews

* "Beautifully, achingly cathartic." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* "Gilbert is a master writer in the YA arena, and this book adds to her impressive oeuvre." -- Booklist, starred review

"A YA novel that so vividly depicts a high-achieving, overly self-reflective teenager (like myself at that age, or my similarly overachieving, overly self-reflective high school friends)… a YA book that expands what the entire category of YA literature can be." -- Bookpage, STARRED REVIEW

"Prevailing themes of true friendship offer readers a promising message of hope." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Gilbert captures the intensity and electricity of the end of adolescence in this astonishing book that expands what the entire category of YA literature can be." -- BookPage Best YA Books of 2021

Readers Top Reviews

3.5-4 stars I enjoyed reading this YA book, and I think a lot of teenagers can relate to it. There’s a lot of pressure surrounding students in their high school years. Pressure to get good grades, pressure to please your parents, pressure to get into a good college—and through it all, these kids are struggling with the realization that their friendships may not survive past graduation. Beth is determined to keep her tight knit group of friends together. With her parents being divorced, she often feels that her friends are all she has, and when she witnesses Jason being abused by his dad, her friends make a pact to protect him no matter what. But Beth isn’t convinced her friends are doing enough for him, and she takes it upon herself to take the brunt of the responsibility, even if that means sacrificing her future plans. I thought this was a great story, and it touches on a lot of serious issues that teenagers face every day. While I thought Beth was a great character, she was a bit overbearing at times. It was clear she cared about her friends and had good intentions, but her overprotectiveness came across as too smothering and almost motherly. I wasn’t surprised by Jason’s abrupt reactions to her when she was like that because that’s how teenagers often react to their parents in similar situations. Though this wasn’t my favorite YA book, I still recommend it, and I think it’s important for teens to read about the topics mentioned throughout this story. *I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.* - Maureen M.
Trigger warning: suicide, child abuse, panic attacks. Without her father in her life, and everything else up in the air, Beth just wants her friend group to stay together. As the end of senior year looms closer, she wonders if their friendship is really as strong as she thought it was. Not to mention that she is in love with Jason, and she and her friends just witnessed awful violence against Jason at his fathers hand. Throughout their senior year, Beth needs to decide how much she is willing to give up to keep her friends together. 3.5 stars. Oh man. Throughout the entire book all I kept thinking was Beth please please please please go to therapy. My heart absolutely broke for how much Beth put her own worth in the hands of everyone else. At the same time, it killed me how terrible she was to her mother. I understood how her father leaving her had effected her, but I felt so much for her mom who was doing her best. It was extra interesting that she was so hard on her mom, when within her group of friends she very much acted in the motherly role. I think this one will really resonate with teens, especially as they face the decision of college and the future. I will be completely honest in saying that I found it really hard to like Beth. I completely understood why she was the way she was, but she was so overprotective of her friendships and wanted everyone to make the same decisions she did in order to prove they cared for her. I want to simultaneously hug her and walk her directly into a therapists office. This story broke my heart a little, but I did enjoy how Beth started to realize certain things as the book went on.
I didn't always like the choices the main characters made, but I appreciated the thoughtful way in which Gilbert presented their reasoning. I loved the sense of place Gilbert captured with references to streets and sites in Santa Clara County. Parents of teenagers growing up in Silicon Valley should read this book. They might see themselves in less than favorable ways. The teenagers should read this book as a somewhat cautionary tale. Don't just say "Everything is fine" and don't accept that as a response.

Short Excerpt Teaser

Chapter 1

AROUND DUSK in Congress Springs, when it's been a clear day, the fog comes creeping over the Santa Cruz Mountains from the coast, shrouding the oaks and the redwoods in a layer of mist. The freeways there tip you north to San Francisco or south to San Jose, hugging those mountains and the foothills going up the coast on one side and the shoreline of the Bay on the other.

It was still late afternoon the day we were heading up through the Peninsula to SF for our annual Fall Showcase, and sharply clear-skied, which made it feel like the blazing gold of the oak trees and the straw-colored grass of the hills had burned away all the fog. It was October, and we were seven weeks into our school year and ten weeks into our final year in BAYS. Sometimes I wondered about early humans who watched the grasses die and the trees turn fiery and then expire, if they thought it meant their world was ending. That year, because it was our last together, it felt a little like that to me.

So far just Sunny and Jason were eighteen and could legally drive the rest of us around, so Sunny was driving; I was sitting squeezed in between Jason and Brandon in the back seat, Grace in the front, my whole world contained in that small space. Jason, Grace, and I all had our violins on our laps so Brandon's bass would fit in the trunk with Sunny's oboe and her stash of Costco almonds, and I was holding my phone in my hands because I was hoping to hear back from my father.

"Is that a new dress, Grace?" Sunny said as we passed the Stanford Dish. Sunny wasn't sentimental, but when she cared about you, she followed the things in your life closely, almost osmotically. "It's cute."

"Thanks!" Grace said. "I thought it might work for Homecoming, too."

"Except that Homecoming will never happen," Brandon said, waggling his eyebrows at Sunny in the rearview mirror. "We're all waiting for Jay's big moment, but the end of the world will come, and there we'll all be staring down the meteor, poor Jason waiting in his crown, and Sunny will be complaining how Homecoming still hasn't-"

"Brandon, don't bait her," Grace said, at the same time Sunny said, "Okay, but seriously, I don't understand how everyone here can have a 4.3 GPA but be so massively incompetent in basically every other area of life." Homecoming had been repeatedly pushed back this year-now it was after Thanksgiving-because the other ASB officers had taken too long to organize everything, which Sunny had complained about both to us and to their faces for weeks, even after Austin Yim, the social manager, told her she was being kind of a bitch.

"Anyway," Sunny said, "if Homecoming does miraculously actually happen despite the rampant incompetence, I bet Chase will ask you, Grace."

Grace made a face. "I don't know. He still hasn't said anything about it."

Grace had had a thing lately for Chase Hartley, who hung out with a somewhat porous, mostly white group of people who usually walked to the 7-Eleven at lunch and stood around the little reservoir there. Even though she and Sunny and I would spend hours afterward dissecting their hallway conversations or messages and parsing the things he said to figure out whether he was into her, I was privately hoping that he wasn't. The last time she'd had a boyfriend-Miles Wu, for a few months when we were sophomores-she would disappear for three or four days in a row at lunch with no comment and then show up the fifth, smiling brightly, as though she hadn't been gone at all. But then again, Grace and Jason had very briefly gone out in seventh grade before I'd known them, and so it was always a little bit of a relief when she was into someone else.

"Chase seems exactly like someone who wouldn't think about it at all until the last possible minute," Sunny said. "Why don't you ask him?"

"We were all going together, right?" I said. "We could get a limo or something."

"Maybe!" Grace said brightly. "I'll see what happens with Chase. Or he could come with us. Brandon, you're going, right?"

I didn't want Chase there-I wanted just the five of us, cloistered from the rest of the world. It was only fall, still blazingly hot in the afternoons and still with the red-flag fire warnings and power blackouts in the hills to try to keep the state from incinerating, but already I'd begun to feel the pressure of the lasts-the last Fall Showcase, the last Homecoming-before the universe blew apart and scattered the five of us to who knew ...