Caleb Michaels is a sixteen-year-old champion running back. Other than that his life is pretty normal. But when Caleb starts experiencing mood swings that are out of the ordinary for even a teenager, his life moves beyond “typical.”
Caleb is an Atypical, an individual with enhanced abilities. Which sounds pretty cool except Caleb’s ability is extreme empathy—he feels the emotions of everyone around him. Being an empath in high school would be hard enough, but Caleb’s life becomes even more complicated when he keeps getting pulled into the emotional orbit of one of his classmates, Adam. Adam’s feelings are big and all-consuming, but they fit together with Caleb’s feelings in a way that he can’t quite understand.
Caleb’s therapist, Dr. Bright, encourages Caleb to explore this connection by befriending Adam. As he and Adam grow closer, Caleb learns more about his ability, himself, his therapist—who seems to know a lot more than she lets on—and just how dangerous being an Atypical can be.
Warnings: use of homophobic slur, depressive episodes, mentions of self-harm, physical violence
The Infinite Noise brings us the story of Caleb and Adam from The Bright Sessions in alternating perspectives, from the beginning of their relationship begins and its ups and downs, while having a slightly sci-fi background of the existence of Atypicals. If you do not know about The Bright Sessions, don’t worry as the story will be easy to understand because it doesn’t require much of a background from the audio drama itself; in case you are coming as a fan of the show and want to know where this story can be slotted, it is season 1, and mostly before we know much about the whole AM thing. Dr Bright is, of course, present, but as a secondary character, as there are occasional scenes from Caleb’s therapy sessions; a couple of other Atypicals also make an appearance towards the end.
Okay, coming back to this book: Caleb being ‘out of the picture’ for a lot of the AM story arc means that this story is mostly about him starting to realize what his empath abilities mean, his growing friendship with Adam (who has a crush of him) and the conflicting flow of emotions between them as they are both hiding a big part of themselves from the other. Caleb’s initial months with his Atypical ability developing means he is in a lot of confusion, and his every day is filled with other people’s feelings overwhelming him constantly. High school is bad enough without feeling what everyone is feeling, and Caleb’s PoV brings out that difficulty very well. Meanwhile, Adam, who is trying to maintain a façade of being ‘okay’ so as not to worry his parents, is mostly a loner in school and Caleb notices how his feelings don’t grate at him like the others do. Caleb strikes up a friendship with him, and well, after that the guys awkwardly build a friendship and a relationship. I say awkwardly because Caleb is Not Smooth at this, even with the advantage of knowing other people’s feelings, and Adam is observant but he feels like he is not able to figure out Caleb completely. Then there’s also the fact that Caleb is hiding his super-empathy from him, while Adam is hiding his depression. Speaking of Adam’s depression: it was written with so much nuance and clarity, that I felt seen. And Caleb’s whole PoV is a detailed exploration of feelings, of gestures and body language translating into communication, and him cross-referencing that with what he is feeling off the person.
As for the plot, the romance itself has a lot to propel the story forward; from their hiding things about each other, Caleb’s realization about his feelings, Adam being a bit disbelieving that his crush might actually reciprocate his feelings, the whole thing about a boy with intense feelings and a boy who can feel intensely is all good for covering most of the book. In the last quarter, the introduction of the AM back into the plot may have been processed in a bit of a hurry, though, as that is still pretty much a big unresolved issue, but for the purpose of their story it worked to conclude things there. I wish Caitlin’s and Adam’s friendship as well as Chloe’s and Adam’s friendship got more page time, because I felt that the development just wasn’t there; it was just shown in basically snapshot scenes, which felt incongruous compared to how much the other main friendship of the book was explored. And yeah, I was hoping for more AM stuff, but I also see that would have distracted from what the book was about: Caleb’s and Adam’s relationship.
Overall, a cute queer romance story with a sci-fi angle that is sure to charm readers.
Is it diverse? Adam is gay, Jewish and biracial; Caleb is queer; there are secondary PoC characters
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Tor Teen, via Edelweiss.
Releases on September 24, 2019