“Spanning four years of high school, the stories of five teenagers–three girls and two boys–start when they are in a freshman orientation group together. In third-person chapters about each one, they experience romance, family problems, friendship, and loneliness as their lives start to overlap more and more. A great read filled with insights” (Odean, 2016).
While this book did not “wow” me like some of the others on this blog have, I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It was not profound like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, nor heart-wrenching like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but I really appreciate the level of realism it accomplishes. The novel focuses on five teenagers as they’re beginning high school, and follows their journeys until graduation. The five teens are Gregor (a “band geek” whose main objective is to find love in high school), Whitney (a popular girl who is tired of being popular), Zoe (the daughter of a famous actress with an alcohol problem), Mia (a shy girl who wants to break out of her shell), and Jake (a boy struggling with coming out and developing feelings for his best friend). At the beginning of the novel, the five characters write notes to their future selves and tuck them away in a secret hiding place, vowing to open them upon graduation. The rest of the novel is told almost episodically, switching from character to character and organized by months.
One of my favorite aspects of this book, besides the realism, was the fact that there is literally a character for every reader to relate to. For me, personally, that character was Mia; I, too, grappled with crippling shyness in high school, though it took me much longer to break out of my shell than it did for her. Although I am no longer a teen, I can picture reading this as a high school student and feeling a connection to what the characters are going through. The novel deals with issues like teen pregnancy, drugs, and alcohol, but it does so without feeling preachy or like it’s trying to carry a message. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a message for or against these at all; it’s just sharing the stories of five teenagers and their friends. It certainly doesn’t talk down to teenagers, but instead meets them on their level and talks to them as friends might. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that keeps it quite as real as this one does; although it’s in third person, you feel as if you’re reading the diaries of friends or people you might have actually known in high school, and that’s incredibly refreshing to me.
Perhaps my favorite quote in the book comes on the very last page, when the group is reflecting on their high school experience:
“When they had written those letters at the beginning of high school, it hadn’t seemed like much. But now that they were at the end, they were feeling how extraordinary it was. Not necessarily the beginning and not really the end, either. It was the infinite in between, all those miniscule and major moments when they’d dipped in and out of each other’s lives. That had been their journey and somehow, even though they hadn’t realized it, they’d been on it together” (Mackler, 2015, p. 462).
This, to me, represents exactly what high school feels like. At the time, it feels like the worst four years of your life, and you can’t wait to move on to college and better things. Many times, you’re often hiding part or all of yourself from others, and it’s only afterwards that you realize how silly it was to do so. Because I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, I’ll say that there were many moments throughout the novel that explored this idea of “reinventing yourself,” and putting aside your fears to become who you really are (p. 302). The characters end the novel in very different places from where they began, and it shows their growth and maturity as the novel progresses. I thought this was extremely unique to see in a young adult novel, and I really appreciated the slice-of-life picture it presented.
If I were to recommend this book for classroom or library use, I would say that it would be perfect for reluctant readers, especially fans of realistic fiction. I would gladly put this in the hands of any high school student (or middle school student about to enter high school) who might feel out of place or weird. A book like this would’ve certainly helped me to build confidence at that age, as it shows that the best (and often hardest) part of growing up is learning to be true to yourself, and learning not to care what others think of you. While this is, again, not the best book I’ve ever read, I really appreciate it for what it does. It presents the journey of high school in a very realistic, no-nonsense light, and shows young adult readers that it’s okay to let go of your “image” and what people think of you in order to be who you really want to be.
Mackler, C. (2015). Infinite in Between. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Odean, K. (2016). High school challenges. Teacher Librarian, 43(3), 34.