The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen
THE BRIGHT SESSIONS is a trilogy of spinoff novels set in the world of the podcast of the same name, both media written by Lauren Shippen. I am generally a fiction podcast fan, so when the third book in the trilogy – Some Faraway Place – hit my radar, something about it sounded familiar. Turns out, on a long road trip a few years ago, I had listened to several episodes of the podcast. I remembered liking it so I wanted to give the books a try.
The Infinite Noise (2019) centres on Caleb, the kind of all-American 16-year-old boy you only get in tooth-achingly sweet teen dramas (of which I am an occasional connoisseur; you can’t blame me for my taste when Hilary Duff was my idol as a tween). Caleb is trying – and largely succeeding – to navigate the high school experience when it’s made infinitely harder by a sudden onset of being-able-to-feel-everyone-else’s-feelings-all-the-time. Thus begins the story of one minorly super powered 16-year-old trying to find some peace.
Right out of the gate, The Infinite Noise serves up a huge number of cliches. That isn’t an immediate red flag for me as a reader as I’m willing to wait and see if the author takes genre cliches in an interesting direction, subverts them, or executes them so well that I love them as they are. The Infinite Noise lands somewhere in the middle: no great subversion, but the whole story is charming enough that the framework of tropes works just fine.
The writing is straightforward and fast-paced – there’s a clear direction in mind and you get to the good stuff at a good clip. This is a quick read, even when the pacing slows down a bit for the big emotions of the final third; it would be easy to breeze through this book in a day or so.
All these aspects work together to make an endearing story. The characters work well enough, the pacing matches the themes and genre, and the speculative element makes sense while leaving mysteries open for later books.
That being said, there were elements of this novel that didn’t work and even undermined its own setting.
While the writing is direct and keeps up a fast pace, it had some weaknesses, such as idiosyncrasies with the language used in dialog. On one page you’d have a kid use a slangy turn of phrase, and then shortly thereafter have an adult – sometimes the teen’s parent – use it as well. This muddied the character’s voices for me and made me think the author’s own voice and use of slang and colloquialisms was coming through.
Another issue I had with this book was that the setting was temporally, well, weird. The Infinite Noise takes place over two years, from 2014-2016. This is largely established through music references which, as a shorthand for placing a story in time, can work just fine. But this novel hit an odd middle ground where it felt like there were both too many references to music, going beyond simply grounding it in 2015-ish, and too few for music to be an interesting thematic element to the story.
Shippen also included some odd, sometimes inaccurate references to subcultures. One character being called a ‘hipster’ absolutely dates the book, but not any more meaningfully than the over-use of music. What’s more confusing to me is that this book came out in 2019. To me, it doesn’t align well with the target audience for a YA book to come out in 2019 but be very of-its-time in a 2015-ish kind of way. Also, the touchstones don’t even really make sense – a character wears a Twenty One Pilots shirt and another character calls him goth for it. Listen, I’ve been to a Twenty One Pilots concert. They are by no means part of the goth music subculture.
I have an overall positive opinion of The Infinite Noise. It worked for me in a lot of ways – it’s a delightfully cute teen drama, and it engages with how it feels to be a kid and have feelings that are endlessly huge in a lovely way. It also takes a good stab at situating itself in an interesting world. The Infinite Noise foregrounds the teen protagonists and backgrounds the speculative aspect of the setting quite heavily. If you liked the podcast for that one teen in it, you might like this book. But if you’re into the podcast for the heavier themes and the world-altering intrigue, then The Infinite Noise probably won’t work for you.