Empathy in color

An appraisal of Lauren Shippen's debut novel 'The Infinite Noise: A Bright Sessions Novel'

Camille Schweppe, Staff Reporter

It’s a feeling edging on the verge of coma-induced euphoria. No physical noise, just emotions, but they scream just as loud. That’s what reading Lauren Shippen’s “The Infinite Noise: A Bright Sessions Novel” felt like. Published in September of 2019, the novel is based on ‘The Bright Sessions’ podcast but can be read independently. 

The novel is about Atypicals — humans who possess superhuman abilities. Caleb Michaels is an athletic, bright teenager who discovers he is an Atypical with the ability of extreme empathy. In the beginning of the book, Caleb begins to experience major mood swings which leads him to Dr. Bright, a therapist who specializes in Atypicals. To classify emotions, Caleb assigns a color to each feeling and while most of the feelings he experiences at school are clamoring and claustrophobic, Adam Hayes makes the intensity simmer to a slow burn. 

This novel is revolutionary in science fiction, involving much creativity. The inclusion of mental illness breaks the icy stigma of therapy and illustrates a timid romance between two boys just trying to survive high school despite the odds. The scientific fiction was well-thought through, with no gaping plot holes. Caleb’s ability was described simply and understandably, especially with the plot point that he uses colors to understand the emotions he soaks up.

It was a beautiful read about superhumans but also about love. Adam and Caleb were eccentric together. There was practically zero angst between them, which I can appreciate despite its underwhelming effect. Although I did love how Shippen developed the relationship slowly alongside the development of Caleb’s control over his empathy, she let the story hang. By the time the boys finally confessed their mutual attraction, the book only had a fourth left. The slight fiction between the characters was stationed here, and it gave zero give. There was no development between Adam and Caleb after they got together. Caleb did confess his secret ability, but Adam had yet to come clean about his depression, despite the fact that Caleb could feel it. This novel was full of imagery and beautiful diction, but fell short at the end with its growth of characterization. I desired to keep reading. I want to know more about their relationship, Adam’s coping with depression and the secret society that was after Atypicals as well as the other characters that were thrown haphazardly into the book. Although my love of the novel will transcend, it needed more pages to create a suffice story. 

Caleb Michaels was a beautiful character. I loved him. He was funny, sensitive and so open. There was no freak out when he liked Adam. He accepted that he did and pursued it. However, I felt like I loved the idea of him. I loved the idea of who he was but in reality the pages never dived deep enough for me to understand Caleb without his ability. In analysis, Caleb was a bland character with an eccentric ability, but it isn’t necessarily a terrible plot hole in the context of the novel. 

Adam Hayes was a marvelously unknown character. Despite how the novel was a split point of view between the two boys, Adam was never truly known — just as Caleb wasn’t. I know Adam was quiet, unbelievably smart, gay and depressed, all of which make a lovable character, yet he was still so surface level. Again, I loved the idea of Adam. I loved the idea of him and Caleb together, but there is no written basis upon this love I have other than what I can infer from the book. 

Although the issues I have with the book are infuriating, I can’t hate it. I cherish the themes of realistic therapy, the unshocking reveal that Caleb isn’t straight, Caleb being an Atypical and Adam’s mental instability. The writing itself was superb. Shippen used beautiful, colorful diction to create scenes between Adam and Caleb. Her use of figurative language concerning colors to express emotions was ingenious. Although it has its faults (and I will continue to hang onto hope that there will be another book about Caleb and Adam), the novel was an amazing debut for Shippen, and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.