When We Were Infinite
By Lucinda Dyer,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Powerful story of friendship, expectations, and healing.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Beth and Jason's storylines give readers an intimate and detailed look at the realties of dealing with depression and panic attacks. A Resources section at the end of the book provides links to organizations that can help teens who are struggling with thoughts of suicide, abuse, racism, and mental health issues.
The story shows that while you may have decided on an absolutely must-have plan for your life, you need to be open to an unexpected change of plan that can lead to an even brighter future.
Positive Role Models
The friendship shared by Beth, Jason, Sunny, Brandon, and Grace is marked by the kindness, compassion, and unwavering support they show for one another. While they do have their arguments and disagreements, they always take the steps necessary to mend a friendship. Sunny, Brandon, and Jason's parents are from Taiwan, while Grace's family has been in the United States for generations. Beth has a Chinese American mother and a White father and sometimes struggles with whether she's quite Asian enough. And the story recycles the cliche about the pressure on Asian kids to succeed academically. Sunny, who's pansexual, dreams of college in Los Angeles and life in its LGBTQ+ community.
Violence & Scariness
A teen is physically assaulted by his father, who strikes him across the face then kicks him in the side. There's a teen suicide attempt, and the story explores its aftermath.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A quick kiss. In one scene, one of the girls thinks one of her guy friends might want to have sex and she runs throug a possible scenario in her mind, but it never happens.
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Scattered uses of profanity, primarily "f--k" and "f--king."
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Products & Purchases
Passing mention of Target, Costco, Star Wars, and Mulan. Characters play the videogames Faster Than Light, and Don't Starve.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teens make brief and negative references to a fellow student who smokes pot. Beth sometimes takes Benadryl when she can't sleep.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Kelly Loy Gilbert's When We Were Infinite is the story of five friends, the dreams they have for their futures, and the deep friendships that anchor them. Beth (the story's narrator), Jason, Sunny, Brandon, and Grace are all seniors at a California high school where, according to Grace, everyone seems obsessed with accomplishment. The child of divorced parents, Beth clings to the stability and sense of family she's found in being part of this close group of friends. After a shocking and violent incident involving one of the teens, they agree to stay together by going to the same college. But the plan's in jeopardy after a suicide attempt and one teen's debilitating panic attacks. The story doesn't end with their high school graduation -- it lets readers follow the friends through their first years of college. A teen is physically assaulted by his father and there are scattered uses of profanity, mainly "f--k" and "f--king."
Where to Read
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What's the Story?
WHEN WE WERE INFINITE begins as Beth Claire (the book's narrator), Jason Tsou, Grace Nakamura, Brandon Lin, and Sunny Chen are in their senior year at a highly competitive and pressure-filled California high school. All five are accomplished musicians and play together in a local youth symphony. Sunny, Brandon, and Jason's families are from Taiwan, while Grace's has been in the United States for generations. Beth has a Chinese American mother and a White father and sometimes struggles with whether she's quite Asian enough. The child of divorced parents, Beth is continually at odds with her mother and estranged from her father, but she's found the family she craves in her group of friends. After Beth and Brandon witness Jason's father (who's angry his son isn't living up to his expectations) beating him, she's determined to find a way to keep the group together after graduation. But even as Beth puts together a plan that will see all the friends going to the same college, it begins to come apart.
Is It Any Good?
This is a complex and deeply moving story that tackles hard issues around parental expectations, abuse, and teen suicide with insight and sensitivity. While When We Were Infinte does recycle the cliche about Asian kids and academic pressure, almost any teen will easily identify with the personal and academic struggles of Beth and her friends.
Throughout it all, the friends stand by one another, offering love and support through tough and emotionally challenging times. Readers aren't left wondering what life after graduation was like for the five, as the story follows them through their first years of college.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the expectations parents put on their kids in When We Were Infinite. How do you think families can find a good balance between a teen's dream for their future and a different dream their parents may have for them?
What qualities do you most admire in your friends? What qualities make you a good friend?
Have any of your friends or family members dealt with depression or panic attacks? How hard was it for them to share their struggles even with those closest to them?
- Author: Kelly Loy Gilbert
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: March 9, 2021
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 13 - 18
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: August 4, 2022
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Where to Read
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