A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hilary T. Smith's A Sense of the Infinite is a coming-of-age novel that handles some difficult issues, including teen pregnancy, rape, depression, eating disorders, and abortion. The author doesn't shy away from tackling tough subjects in a realistic way, such as the downsides of a friendship so close it's unhealthy for the protagonist or choosing to have sex with someone who isn't your boyfriend. There's a passage that describes the loss of virginity, but it's not graphic. A sexual encounter leads to pregnancy and an abortion. Teens drink at a party, and they occasionally use strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "dickhead"). This book offers plenty of conversation starters about everything from friendship and college choice to sex and pregnancy.
What's the story?
Hilary T. Smith's second coming-of-age novel A SENSE OF THE INFINITE is told from the perspective of Annabeth, a shy, nature-loving high school senior whose only real friend is the outgoing Noe, for whom Annabeth will do anything: go to a party, join the gymnastics team, befriend her boyfriend Steven. Annabeth feels like she's secretly a monster because of the truth of her conception, but no one -- even Noe -- knows. As Annabeth strikes up a genuine friendship with Noe's boyfriend, Steven, it becomes increasingly clear that she and Noe are drifting apart and their future plans may not overlap the way Annabeth so firmly believed. After a casual sexual encounter has life-changing consequences for Annabeth, she experiences an accompanying sense of clarity about herself and Noe. Nothing will ever be the same -- but maybe that's a good thing to realize on the brink of graduation.
Is it any good?
A beautifully written coming-of-age story about the complexities of friendship, identity, and sexual awakening, A Sense of the Infinite is ideal for fans of intense contemporary YA. This isn't a light romantic comedy about senior-year BFFs and boyfriends; there's a lot that's hard to read about in Smith's books, whether it's grief and mental illness in Wild Awake or rape, abortion, and eating disorders here. But just because the book tackles tough issues doesn't mean it's grim. Smith imbues Annabeth's journey with humor (such as the fact that she and Steven have heart-to-hearts in public restrooms so they call each other "Pee Sisters") and plenty of wisdom, although usually that's in the form of advice from Annabeth's mother, cousin, and Steven.
The number of revelations in the book may feel a bit overwhelming at times, but Smith deftly manages not to cross over into melodrama with everything that's happening to Annabeth and her friends. Kudos to Smith for portraying Annabeth as someone uninterested in finding true love at 17. Annabeth's first sexual experience, for example, is dizzyingly romantic as it's happening but can't survive the light of day; she prefers the mythical nature of that one moment to the disappointing reality of attempting a second encounter. That kind of "no big deal" attitude about virginity and sex admittedly is not for every reader, but Annabeth is hardly the only high school senior to prefer the feeling of "right now" over the commonly propagated idea that high school romance can last forever. Ultimately, this is a story about struggling to define what makes you you -- even if that means separating from some people and finding others. It's a bittersweet testament to growing up and moving forward into that unknown future of adulthood.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the idea of honesty and friendship. When does loyalty turn into codependency? What is the book's message about Annabeth and Noe's friendship?
Discuss the way sex is depicted in A Sense of the Infinite. Is it realistic? What about the consequences?
How are eating disorders depicted? What do you think friends should do if they suspect another friend has an eating disorder?
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