When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert is a treasure of emotional depth
When We Were Infinite is a journey through a consequential year in the life of a group of friends as recounted by the quiet but observant Beth. As high school seniors, they are all planning for their future. They are consumed by the pressures of living up to expectations and balancing them with their own aspirations. Some are looking forward to this next step, but others are buckling under the weight of the uncertainty.
Beth, whose parents’ divorce caused severe trauma, has learned to cope thanks to her friends. And when tragedy strikes the group, the looming reality that they are all about to head off to college all around the country terrifies her. She quickly becomes obsessed with keeping them together, even if it comes at the expense of her dreams.
To Beth, it’s worth sacrificing herself to save Jason; and keep Sunny, Grace, and Brandon close. But her fight to keep everybody from moving on comes at a higher cost than she can ever imagine.
At first, I thought Beth was overdramatic and controlling. I wanted desperately to grab her by the shoulders and tell her: Girl, you will be fine! You WILL make new friends! There is so much more to life than high school. But as I kept reading, something in me clicked with my younger self. I had been Beth at times in my life–willing to take on more than I should to keep people close. Terrified about moving on without the shelter and protection of those I felt closest to, who were part of my daily routines and knew everything about me.
I could relate to Beth because a version of me way back when also wondered how could I ever replace them. At one point or another, we all fear change. But life must continue, even when all you want is to keep still.
Beth and Jason’s stories, and how they overlap, are not easy to read. Their emotional struggles devastated me, but at the same time, their humanity grounded me. We follow them through a journey that is complicated and painful because growth usually is.
I grieved with and for Beth and Jason but loved their hopeful sadness. At its core, When We Were Infinite is a story about human brokenness, healing, and, most importantly, our infinite capacity to love.
Content alert: This describes mental health disorders, scenes of violence, and suicide.