Tiny Infinities by J.H. Diehl

I don’t even remember why I wanted to read Tiny Infinities.  Given my book addiction, I stumble across books from a wide variety of sources and rarely remember weeks later why I put something on a list.  But I requested it from Libby and when it became available I borrowed it and started reading it almost immediately. I am glad I did.

Cover of Tiny Infinities by J.H. DiehlWhen Alice’s dad moves out, leaving her with her troubled mother, she does the only thing that feels right: she retreats to her family’s old Renaissance tent in the backyard, determined to live there until her dad comes home. In an attempt to keep at least one part of her summer from changing, Alice focuses on her quest to swim freestyle fast enough to get on her swim team’s record board. But summers contain multitudes, and soon Alice meets an odd new friend, Harriet, whose obsession with the school’s science fair is equal only to her conviction that Alice’s best stroke is backstroke, not freestyle. Most unexpected of all is an unusual babysitting charge, Piper, who is mute–until Alice hears her speak. A funny and honest middle-grade novel, this sharply observed depiction of family, friendship, and Alice’s determination to prove herself–as a babysitter, as a friend, as a daughter, as a person–rings loud and true.

It turned out to be exactly the palate cleanser type read I needed (I’m juggling some more serious works and just finished a thriller type and wanted something different).

It had great characters and an interesting plot; despite really being about the lead character Alice. It has a sort of after school special storyline that I often seek to avoid, divorce and its impact on kids, but the writing is so well done and the lead character held my attention. Perhaps, as a child of divorce I could relate. But Diehl really captures the feelings of family, friendship, summer and the awkwardness as you move from childhood to adulthood and seemingly get caught halfway between.

I like how the relationships are multi-faceted.  Although, I guess you could say her relationship with her mother is heavily on the negative side, but there is still real love even amongst the complex feelings.  Her relationship with Harriet is complex as well.  As I said, Alice’s working out of her choices and their consequences, her relationships and their impact on her life and her choices, feels real and deep.

I agree with Kirkus:

Diehl, a debut author, has a lovely writing style and wastes no time getting readers on Alice’s side. While this is not a fast-paced novel and at times even feels meandering, its exploration of relationships—among family, friends both old and new, and crushes—and responsibility are worth diving into … A quiet story with a likable protagonist.

Highly recommended for Middle Grade or Tween readers but it really is a great story for anyone.  Although to be fair, Booklist puts its finger on one reason I might have enjoyed it so much:

Lush, layered, and languidly paced, Diehl’s debut is frank in its depiction of a family mired in difficulties. Alice discovers no easy answers for the depth of her mother’s woes, and yet, buoyed by curiosity, she perseveres and triumphs in small moments throughout the summer. Though accomplished and detailed, the writing at times feels too akin to adult literary fiction, which stretches believability. Still, this is a keenly perceptive and nuanced story awaiting just the right reader.

So, if that sounds like you or if you know a young person that fits the description, I recommend Tiny Infinities.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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