Considering how much I love Picture Us in the Light, I should have known how much I’d love When We Were Infinite. Gilbert’s book is an emotional journey. All the pains of falling in love, the joys and the momentary highs, all wrapped up into one. I really don’t know how to describe how much I loved When We Were Infinite. Keep reading this book review to see me struggle.
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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: anxiety, panic attacks, racism, suicide attempt, suicide of side character, child abuse
When We Were Infinite is told from the present reflecting on the past. It’s about looking back and seeing the moments everything changed. The moments we would have just forgotten, but, looking back, mean everything. How it represents a turning point from feeling like the future stretches out before us. To a new reality we land in like strangers. Gilbert is a master at complex characters and my heart aches for Beth. It wasn’t only in the comments she gets for being biracial and how “Asian she isn’t”. Big resonant moment for me.
Beth as a Character
It’s in the ways Beth grasps for what she wants. The gaps between what we wish we could reach and where we stand. It’s in the moments we’re so desperately trying to keep it together. Our family, our future, our friends, ourselves. When We Were Infinite is about the fracture lines we trace back. The shock waves in soup and fault lines in smiles. All the little ways the pieces slipped out of grasp. The intricacies of their friendships are certainly a huge focus for the book.
But it’s also a book rooted in fear which holds us back. In relationships which may be full of good intentions and love, but how we need to figure out pieces of ourselves before we can become good partners. That relationships based on need, in the aftermath, only twist into things beyond our control. It’s an intensely emotional book about how we thinks things can last forever if we keep gluing them back together.
A Multi-Layered Book
All the little signs that add up into an avalanche. Beth’s relationship with her family was another layer to When We Were Infinite. Both of her relationships with her mom and dad broke my heart. The ways expectations can be passed down. How we want to see simplicity in the people we love. Fully knowing that nothing is ever that easily understandable. That good intentions and love don’t always win. No matter what we do, some things we cannot fix. Some people, some situations, need to develop themselves alone.
Overall, When We Were Infinite is a book steeped in reflection. We cannot live for someone else. When we put our lives on hold that isn’t love. Beth was an incredibly relatable, endearing, flawed, and complex character. At times, When We Were Infinite was difficult to read. But mostly because it felt so relatable. How we can think we can push to fix everything. And knowing that’s not always possible.