Before I start with my review, I want to mention that this book has several trigger warnings. While this review is spoiler free, there might be mentions of certain themes that might be triggering. Please proceed with caution and stay safe.
TW: anxiety, panic attacks, racism, suicide attempt, suicide of side character, child abuse
Thank you to SimonTeen and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler free, honest review and all thoughts and feelings are my own.
When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Published: March 9, 2021
Publisher: Simon Schuster Book for Young Readers
Genre: YA Contemporary
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.
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.
This book was tough for me to read. I had a boyfriend in high school who tried to commit suicide and this book brought up a lot of similar emotions and feelings I had at that time. And as someone who has anxiety, seeing Beth’s struggle with anxiety and that feeling of loss of control and selflessness almost triggered me. It was just so heartbreakingly relatable that part of me wanted to put the book down, but I kept going, because I wanted to see what happened.
This story is not a lighthearted contemporary. If you’re looking for something fun and quirky, that takes minimal energy to read, this is not a good book to go with. This book dives into the feelings that a lot of students face, but particularly Asian-American students. Our main character, Beth, is Chinese-American and is mixed race, with her mother who is Chinese and father who is white. As a mixed race person, Beth is not white enough to fit in with white people, yet not Asian enough to fit in with other Asian kids. She feels lost, in a category of her own, and struggles a lot with her identity.
In addition to Beth’s desire to fit in, she’s also the child of divorce. Her father left Beth and her mother and all she has wanted since then was to get in his good graces. In trying to fit his mold for her, Beth gets in the habit of molding herself into what people want her to be, instead of who she actually is. This makes me so frustrated at times. I’m a people pleaser. It’s so hard not to change yourself to fit what people want or expect of you and watching this poor girl shut down her own wants to fit what she thinks other people want made me so angry. Especially when it comes to violin, the instrument she plays. I grew up playing flute and allowed myself to listen to other people instead of following my dreams and it has been the biggest regret of my life. It makes me so upset to see her push aside her dreams and desires to please other people, like I had done.
While I don’t want to spoil anything, there was one character in particular I had mixed feelings about: Jason. Jason, Beth’s friend and crush, is going through a hard time.
And after he tries to kill himself, it’s clear there’s a lot he’s dealing with. But one thing about him that I couldn’t ignore was his complete nastiness towards Beth, who wants nothing more than to help him. While her tactics can be a overbearing, Jason just completely snaps on her multiple times and every time he jumps on her, I want to punch him. Maybe it’s because I see a lot of myself in Beth, or I can relate to some of her struggles, but I’m very protective over her and if anyone messes with her, it gets me really upset. Though I am not completely biased because I’m aware that Beth does not make the best choices and is struggling herself.
Overall, I really liked this book. I didn’t expect to like it this much, especially after the slow beginning, but it has grown on me. It brought up a lot of feelings I had in high school of feeling lost and out of control, especially watching the people I love suffer, but the reflection it offers is almost soothing. Gilbert definitely has a way with words and it made me reflect on the experiences I had and come to appreciate the lessons learned.
If you’re looking for a good introspective book, be sure to check out Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher.