Mainstream superhero storytelling tends to do better when depicting physical powers than emotional/mental ones, which is one of the many reasons why the premise of Lauren Shippen’s upcoming young adult novel, The Infinite Noise, so intrigues me…
Based on Shippen’s award-winning podcast, The Bright Sessions, The Infinite Noise follows 16-year-old running back Caleb Michaels who has the supernatural ability to feel other people’s emotions. High school is a hard place to have the power of extreme empathy, and classmate Adam is an emotional calm in the storm. Told from both boys points-of-view, The Infinite Noise is a coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist (not to mention a queer love story!), and I can’t wait to read it.
Check out this exclusive excerpt from The Infinite Noise…
“School starts tomorrow, correct?” Dr. Bright asks after a few moments of silence. “Yep,” I say. More silence. I’m getting used to these standoffs. I just wish I was better at winning them. But Dr. Bright pins me with a stare and I eventually give in, every time. “I don’t wanna go back,” I mumble, face heating. “Why not?” she asks, like the answer isn’t obvious. “Because being in high school when you can feel everyone’s feelings is a complete nightmare?” I answer dryly. “You’ve made some good strides since November, Caleb,” she soothes. I sense it more in her emotions than her voice, and it grates. I don’t want to be soothed right now. “Yeah, whatever,” I bite. “Caleb”—there’s that stare again and the soothing hardens— “what have we talked about?” “Don’t deflect emotion with being an asshole,” I recite, and there’s a small, quick glow within the perfectly even Therapist Mode that Dr. Bright’s emotions operate in. “I don’t remember putting it quite that way,” she smirks, “but yes. When you’re overwhelmed or refusing the input from your ability, you respond with anger. And we don’t want a repeat of what happened with Tyler.” “Yeah, I know,” I sigh. “It’s just easier, you know?” “What’s easier?” “Feeling annoyed or mad at stuff,” I say. “It might be an easy way to push away the other feelings,” she tells me, “but it won’t help you process them.” We sit in silence again but this time Dr. Bright is the one to break it. “How was it being with your family the past few weeks?” she asks. “Um, it was good, I guess,” I say. “I mean, I feel like I’ve gotten used to their feelings, you know? So, like, I’m able to balance them a bit. But it’s not like that in school.” “What helps you balance your family’s emotions?” “Well, there’s only three of them, so that helps. And even when their feelings are annoying or whatever, I can kinda tell who they belong to. They’re familiar.” “Has the color system proved useful?” she asks. “Yeah, I guess so,” I say, thinking about how Dr. Bright feels warm and yellow right now. “Like, it doesn’t always make things easier, but it’s definitely something.” “Do you think that could help at school?” “I don’t know,” I admit. “There’s just so much. There’s too much, you know . . .” “Input?” she suggests. “Yeah, exactly. And so I can’t process, like, any of it, and that’s when I get overwhelmed.” She purses her lips and I feel the itchiness that I’ve come to know as Dr. Bright working through stuff in her head. It feels like I’m trying to solve a math problem I don’t understand. “The familiarity of your family’s emotions makes it easier for you to balance your ability,” she repeats. “Is there anyone at school who could do the same thing?” “What?” “Is there someone—a teammate or friend—who you feel comfortable around? Someone whose emotions you could focus on when you get overwhelmed?” The itchiness settles as she says this, like this is really a solution to my Problem. “Um, no, not really,” I admit. “I have friends and stuff but no one . . .” I find myself thinking of the last day of school, going into the library and knowing, just knowing, that Adam Hayes was there. And then he was so startled and his feelings were all over the place, but there was something— “No one . . . ?” Dr. Bright prompts. “No one whose feelings fit,” I finish. “I don’t know that focusing on anybody at school is actually going to help.” “Well,” she says, “something to think about?” “Yeah.” I nod. “Something to think about.”
But I don’t have time to think about it, because the first few days of school are lost in a haze of other people’s bullshit. I got to English early today so that I’d have time to settle in before the onslaught of emotions, and it’s not exactly working. I have to close my eyes as the other students start coming into the room. I try to sift through the feelings; focus on the colors and try to figure out what I’m going to be up against for the next hour. Red. Anger. That one’s pretty obvious. And it’s an emotion that I’m super familiar with. Black sludge. I think that one is disappointment. But this is worse—this is dripping sludge. Hot and cold all at once. Ugh, I hate this one. I feel it all the time but I can’t figure out what’s different about it. And it makes me want to jump off a bridge. Soft blue. It settles behind my eyes and makes my head heavy. Exhaustion. Dr. Bright tells me that being tired isn’t a real emo- tion, but I don’t buy it. There’s a certain kind of tired—a bone-deep weariness—that definitely qualifies as an emotion.Off-white. Soft. Suffocating. Sadness. Red again. Black sludge. Black sludge. Black sludge. God, it’s literally the first week of the semester, can’t people just chill? Pins and needles under my skin. My breathing picks up. Traffic- cone orange. Stress. Oof, a lot of stress. And then. Quiet. Blue-green. Not sharp like red and orange, but deep. Endless. It fills me up, empties me out. Clears out the sludge, the pins and needles, but makes me tense. Restless. I open my eyes. Find his. Adam.
Why is it that, for the past week, every time I walk into a room, he’s staring at me? It’s like he has some sort of radar—he catches my eye wherever I go. If I didn’t know any better, I’d assume that some dark, omniscient power was out to make my life miserable. Not that I am particularly bereft in the misery department. But this just seems especially cruel. His eyes. His fucking eyes. Sad and curious and beautiful and angry; like he’s angry that I’m there. Like he resents my existence. Part of me wonders if he’s still upset about the stupid library encounter last semester—the staring started just after that—but Caleb doesn’t seem like the type to hold a grudge. And yet here we are, a new semester, and his eyes are always on me. So who’s going to turn away first? Every time I want it to be him—I want to stare him down until he gets scared and has to look away. There’s something about him that makes me want to fight. But every time his eyes find mine, they look straight into me and make mincemeat of my insides. So I don’t fight; I cave. I’m always the one to look away first. Even if I wanted to fight, I couldn’t hold my own against Caleb Michaels. Not many people could.Tyler has been significantly subdued since the fight, and that’s Tyler—I thought the guy was fearless. I take one more quick glance at Caleb and try, for the thousandth time, to imagine him breaking a guy’s nose. I know it happened, but there’s something about it that just doesn’t compute. I don’t feel threatened when I catch him looking at me. I feel . . . Never mind. Not a productive train of thought. I walk toward the back of the room to my desk—conveniently and purposefully located behind Caleb so I don’t have to look at his face. The back of his neck is still visible and provides its own unique brand of torture, but it’s an easy battle compared to his eyes. Enough about him. What are we doing today? I squint at the board. We’re still on Macbeth. Good. No romance in that, not really. Just murder and politics, the best distractions. “I can’t believe he said yes! That’s amazing.” “Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Caitlin.” Perfect. Jessica and Caitlin have settled into the desks behind me and seem particularly excited about the day’s gossip. Yay, hooray. “Sorry, you know what I mean,” Caitlin says, trying to soothe her. “It’s just that taking the quarterback to Sadie Hawkins is kind of a big deal.” “I know!” I can hear the smile on Jessica’s face. I guess she asked Ryan to the dance, then. Even I have to admit that they’ll make a nice-looking couple—with their shiny hair, tan skin, and perfect Colgate smiles. It’s exhausting. “Now it’s your turn,” Jessica says. “You need to grow a pair and ask him!” “Ugh, I know,” Caitlin says, “and I will. I promise. Just . . . let me get through this week. I need to nail this Macbeth project and then I’ll ask him. Seriously.” “Okay, okay,” Jessica concedes, “but you need to stop stressing about this paper. You already have an A.” “And I’d like to keep it that way, thank you very much.” I can’t see her, but I just know Caitlin is preening while she says this. I find her early-morning chatter irritating beyond belief, but the girl is smart. And she never lets you forget it. “Fair enough. Just don’t wait too long.” Jessica’s voice drops to a whisper. “Caleb’s one of the cutest guys in our class. Someone is gonna snatch. Him. Up.” I freeze. Mr. Collins has turned to us and started speaking, but all I hear is blood rushing in my ears. I should have expected this—I know I should have—but it still catches me by surprise. Caleb is the cutest guy in our class, even if I would be the last person to admit it (though the first one to think it). But he’s never dated anyone. I’ve never seen him so much as check out a cheerleader. For a while, I thought maybe I’d gotten crazy lucky, maybe Caleb didn’t want to chase girls like the rest of the football team, but now I’m not sure. He doesn’t check out anyone. Since the beginning of the school year, he’s gotten quiet and kept to himself and goddammit if that doesn’t make him even more appealing.
Used with Permission from Tor Teen, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates. Copyright (c) 2019 Lauren Shippen.
The Infinite Noise will hit bookshelves on September 24th. You can read another excerpt from the book on the Tor Teen Blog. The book is available for preorder now.
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