When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert
✧ Publisher: Simon & Schuster
✧ Date Published: March 9, 2021
✧ Genre: YA Contemporary
From award-winning author Kelly Loy Gilbert comes a powerful, achingly romantic drama about the secrets we keep, from each other and from ourselves, perfect for fans of Permanent Record and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.
All Beth wants is for her tight-knit circle of friends—Grace Nakamura, Brandon Lin, Sunny Chen, and Jason Tsou—to stay together. With her family splintered and her future a question mark, these friends are all she has—even if she sometimes wonders if she truly fits in with them. Besides, she’s certain she’ll never be able to tell Jason how she really feels about him, so friendship will have to be enough.
Then Beth witnesses a private act of violence in Jason’s home, and the whole group is shaken. Beth and her friends make a pact to do whatever it takes to protect Jason, no matter the sacrifice. But when even their fierce loyalty isn’t enough to stop Jason from making a life-altering choice, Beth must decide how far she’s willing to go for him—and how much of herself she’s willing to give up.
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Bookshop | IndieBound
✧ ♡ ✧ ♡ ✧
Representation: biracial (Chinese, white) mc with anxiety, pansexual Tawainese-American sc, Taiwanese-American sc with depression, Japanese-American sc
Click here for Trigger Warnings.domestic assault, child abuse, attempted suicide, homophobia, injuries, anxiety, panic attacks, hospital
✧ ♡ ✧ ♡ ✧
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an ARC in exchange for a spot on this blog tour! This did not affect my opinions in any way.
All quotes are from an advanced reader’s copy and may differ in final publication.
About the Author
Kelly Loy Gilbert believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to complex, broken people. She is the author of Conviction, a William C. Morris Award finalist, and Picture Us in the Light, and lives in the SF Bay Area. She would be thrilled to hear from you on Twitter @KellyLoyGilbert or at KellyLoyGilbert.com.
When We Were Infinite is a heartbreaking and heavy read that will take you on a tumultuous journey, letting you grieve and ache for the characters, but ultimately leaving you with a quiet yet profound sense of hope.
This book follows Beth: a biracial teen in her senior year of high school who’s always felt invincible with her friends Jason, Brandon, Sunny and Grace at her side. She can’t imagine her life without them, especially because they’ve been there for her ever since her father left and her life at home crumbled. However, as the group starts to think about their future and what lies ahead for them individually, Beth witnesses something terrible happening to Jason at the hands of his own father, and everything starts to unravel. Soon, she learns more about herself and the lengths she’s willing to go to for people she loves.
Right from the first page of this book, I found myself adoring Beth’s friend group and their dynamic. Simply put, I loved reading about how much they love each other! Each of the side characters are crafted so well, and their personalities all seem very three-dimensional.
“Together, and only together, we were transcendent.”
Speaking of well-written characters, I really appreciate how Beth is characterized in When We Were Infinite. It was hard for me to read her perspective at times because she has so many misbeliefs about the world and herself, but even though her struggles of not feeling good enough and always wanting to give more of herself to others than she takes were heartbreaking to read, I was also able to resonate with them. I could see my own insecurities reflected in hers, as I think many other young people will. This rawness to her character is written very powerfully, and what makes it even better is her character arc. By the end of the story, Beth learns that she is worth more than she thinks, that she is allowed to be angry and she is allowed to live for herself, and that change is so cathartic to read.
The world will tell you otherwise because you’re a girl and you’re not white and you’re softhearted, but you’re allowed to keep things for yourself, and—and to say something isn’t good enough for you. You’re allowed to want more. You’re allowed to be angry.
I’m not going to talk too much about the plot of the story today because, just like Kelly Loy Gilbert’s other works, this book is best read without knowing what it’s about and instead letting the story speak for itself. Still, I will say this: this book is very heavy and deals with a lot of triggering topics, so please check the trigger warnings above if you need to.
What amazes me, though, is how Kelly Loy Gilbert is able to write about these heavy topics with prose that is absolutely gorgeous and flows together so well that I couldn’t stop myself from highlighting almost every sentence. Like I said in my review of Picture Us In the Light, her writing isn’t even overly descriptive or detailed, but the way she strings phrases together to convey emotions is tremendously moving. All of the figurative language and analogies she uses in this book are so, so beautiful, and I think a lot of that has to do with her focus on the little things: the feelings, moments and details that might seem minuscule at first glance, but actually determine the most in our daily lives.
There’s not much I can say about this other than show you a lot of my favorite quotes from this novel so you can understand!!
Sometimes the people who know you best can speak into your life—they can illuminate all its shadowed parts for you to see.
Everything you do, and everything you don’t do, is all woven into the narrative of your life; each choice you make sets the future in motion, even (and perhaps especially) if you don’t feel it at the time. Each action or inaction is a thread pulled into the greater whole.
But that night it felt like all the history we’d shared, this life we’d built together, and what we were building now, whatever this was and whatever it would be—all that was too large and important and real to be contained by the lawn or the parking lot or the outskirts of the park or even the city boundaries; that night, the two of us together felt so infinite.
Music is a mirror: it waits quietly for you, and when you come to it, you appear temporarily inside of it, you insert yourself there and mold yourself and the piece to fit, and in the best times, you then go away with new insights about yourself.
It was a cool, clear morning, mist still clinging to the foothills rising out past the track and baseball fields. The trees by the parking lot had littered layers of red and gold and orange leaves everywhere, small sunsets that crackled under your footfall.
The room was wavering around me, arcing and flattening itself out like a cat.
I was starting to think that anyone who paid attention had anger embedded in her, like an earring backing.
A warmth spread through my chest, that sunburst of recognition, when someone you care about shows you some way they’ve held a space for you in their heart.
It’s always so fragile, so fragile, the way things are held together. You blink and you disturb the whole universe.
Because maybe in a long friendship everyone is an infinite number of different versions of themselves, and all those selves of you that you shed or grow out of, the ones you’re glad you’ve evolved from and the ones you miss—in a long friendship there’s someone who was witness to all of them, and so all those different people you were along the way, no matter what else you may have been, you were never alone.
Another reason I love the author’s prose in this novel is because it creates such a jarring juxtaposition with the heavy content, giving the story an eerily raw tone and allowing the candid themes to shine. And that brings me to the topic of theme: I simply love how many ideas are explored in this novel, and how Kelly Loy Gilbert is able to use each to bring together such a vivid and painfully human experience. Honestly, so much happens in When We Were Infinite—it feels much longer than it actually is, but in a good way. I remember finishing the book and refusing to believe it was over, yet still feeling like I had read something I wouldn’t forget for a while. Kelly Loy Gilbert is able to explore topics such as mental health, friendship, identity, healing and racism with such nuance and care that I can really tell this is a story close to her heart.
This novel is not perfect, though: I was conflicted about my rating at first because a few things kept me from fully loving it—notably the pacing. The beginning was slow and I felt that some plotlines weren’t carried out thoroughly; I also wished the ending wrapped up the plot a little better. If I’m being honest, I didn’t think I could rate it as high as 4 stars upon finishing because of this.
Nevertheless, once I took the time to write this review and really reflect on the novel, I realized all the hidden ways that it was actually a gorgeous read. And I think that if you want to fully be able to enjoy this book, you need to let it slowly seep into your mind, allowing it to carve a little piece in your heart until you understand how powerful it is.
So because of this, I can confidently say that When We Were Infinite is an extremely important story that I am glad to have picked up. Kelly Loy Gilbert remains one of my favorite authors of all time, and this novel is obvious proof that we are lucky to have her stories in the world.
★★★★☆ // 4 stars
Here’s a book edit/moodboard I made for this book that I also shared on twitter!! All of these pictures are related to events that happen in the novel, and I kept a dark/muted color theme to represent the beautiful yet heavy tone of the book! (I would recommend viewing this with a large screen on the actual website so you can see the panels side by side!)
|Post Date||Blog||Type of Post|
|Monday, March 1||Bookish Ends||Book Review|
|Tuesday, March 2||From The Library of Alexis||Book Review|
|Wednesday, March 3||The Book Bratz||Book Review|
|Thursday, March 4||Between the Shelves||Book Review|
|Friday, March 5||eleven thirteen pm||Author Q&A|
|Monday, March 8||Fangirl Fury||Book Review|
|Tuesday, March 9||Vicky Again||Author Q&A / book art|
|Wednesday, March 10||Forever and Everly||Book Review|
|Thursday, March 11||Drizzle and Hurricane Books||Book Review|
|Friday, March 12||Starlight Strands||Book Review|
Leave a Reply