________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 14. . . .December 4, 2015


A Sense of the Infinite.

Hilary T. Smith.
New York, NY: Katherine Tegen Books (Distributed in Canada by HarperCollins Canada), 2015.
389 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
ISBN 978-0-06-218471-9.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4


It was weird to see Ava so bright and capable. Uncle Dylan was right. She’d really come into her own at Northern. The darkness that had been suffocating her before had dissipated like a plant that only seemed to be dying until you shook out its roots and planted it in a deeper hole. Ava didn’t come back to our town much anymore, even for Christmases and Thanksgivings. The avoidance was definitely intentional. Some people fought tooth and nail to keep their old life alive when they went away, but as far as I knew Ava never talked to her high school friends, never came home on college breaks to work her old summer job and go to parties with people she’d known since she was a kid.

I couldn’t tell if it was better to be a person who held on or a person who let go. Maybe it was less about better and worse and more about which things you needed to do in order for your plant to grow.

Ava handed me a chipped mug that was shaped like a mushroom. It had some green flecks inside it that must be the tea. Before that, I’d only even had Lipton tea in bags with a string and a tag. When I sipped the mushroom mug, the green flecks stuck to my teeth.

“I don’t know that I would have done if I hadn’t gotten out of there,” Ava said. “Probably killed myself.”


“Sit by the railroad tracks one day and think about it,” Ava said.

I had spent plenty of days by the railroad tracks.

I didn’t know what she was talking about.

The grass there is bleached to pale white straw, and crickets jump past your legs like popcorn kernels zinging off a hot pan. When the trains come by they huff and chug and clang your brain to noisy oblivion. Afterward you can follow the tracks to a dusty grove where kids make jumps for their dirt bikes and hobos leave behind nests of broken glass.

“Mom and Nan and Uncle Dylan seem to like it okay,” I said.

“They all left and went back. That’s different. Your mom really wants you to come here,” said Ava. “And you’re a Nature Girl. Come on. There’s a million acres of national park fifteen minutes away.”

Are you a Noe? She seemed to be saying, or an Ava? Are you going to hold on to what you already have, or start from scratch?

I gazed into my mug. The green flecks were swirling around in the tea like the snow inside a snow globe.

“I just don’t know yet,” I said, and set it down.”


Annabeth is in her final year of high school and, like most people in their senior year, faces lots of decisions She and her friend Noe have made lots of plans about the future, and Annabeth knows that having her best friend by her side will make anything she does a success. The future begins to unravel, however, when the girls’ friendship starts to fall apart. Noe has a boyfriend. Noe becomes engrossed in gymnastics. Noe chooses a college without considering what Annabeth thought were “their” plans. Annabeth must decide to simply blindly follow her friend as she has done in the past or to trust herself and follow her own instincts.

     Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel, Wild Awake, garnered a great deal of praise, and A Sense of the Infinite is also excellent. Readers watch Annabeth as she finishes high school and stands on the precipice of “the infinite” which is her life. Early in the book, she is simply a slave to her friendship with Noe. Annabeth chooses to join the gymnastics club and briefly considers changing her educational path in order to attend the same college as Noe. Later on, however, Annabeth, has personal issues and secrets which only she can deal with. Meanwhile, Noe seems to change and isn’t the friend Annabeth has always thought she was. This coming-of-age novel slowly but surely nudges Annabeth forward as she learns to trust her own judgment and make her own decisions.

     Smith’s cast of characters includes many interesting teens, but, perhaps, one of the most memorable is Steven, Noe’s boyfriend. He is a sensitive and thoughtful young man, artistic and intelligent. Although no romance develops between Steven and Annabeth, they have a friendship and understanding of one another which is very special.

     Smith includes many social issues which affect today’s teens, and yet she never gives readers a preachy book. Annabeth has to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, echoing what happened to her mother in the past. Eating disorders and mental health issues are exhibited by various characters, and Smith demonstrates potential ways of dealing with them. These are complicated issues, and Smith provides no easy answers.

     Smith’s writing style is simple yet effective. The novel is a very quick read, with some chapters taking up only a page or less. The sense that everything in Annabeth’s life is changing quickly is mirrored in Smith’s bold writing.

     Relationships and friendships change over time. Adults may look back to their high school days and marvel that those ‘forever’ friends have often simply disappeared from their lives. But Annabeth does not have the advantage of hindsight, and so the changes in her friendship with Noe are devastating. It is not easy for her to come to terms with herself and who she is really meant to be. Smith gradually leads her along a path toward maturity, and readers will feel at the end of A Sense of the Infinite that Annabeth can look forward with enthusiasm and certainty.

     Annabeth wonders if she is a person who holds on or who lets go and finally realizes that letting go does not necessarily mean losing something but rather gaining the freedom to be whoever you want to be.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and former teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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