In Joan Smith’s latest YA novel, The Other Side of Infinity, she pairs the story of star-crossed lovers with clairvoyance. We asked the author about her favourite stories featuring a character who is able to see the future, mixing speculative elements with more ‘realist’ tropes, and including a dyslexic character.
The Other Side of Infinity is out now from Feiwel & Friends.
What are some of your favourite stories featuring foreknowledge/precognition? Are there any tropes you were desperate to use in your own novel?
I love books that play with pre-destiny and fate. Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists is a great example (is it prophecy or fate?). In a completely different genre, I went through a phase of reading the Southern Vampire series a while ago, and these elements popped in and out of them.
As opposed to trying to fit tropes into the book, The Other Side of Infinity arrived fully-formed in my head. There are only a few scenes in it that are a departure from the original conception. In terms of tropes, I’m a sucker for a second-chance relationship (this is not that!), but the “fated mates” one arrived very naturally for this story.
Whether characters have visions or acquire foresight in another way, their ‘knowledge’ is often not to be trusted. Why do creators love to give us a wish-fulfilment dream of knowing the future while also taking it away from us at the same time? Why is it so much more fun to have visions be unreliable?
Well, if Facebook neighborhood groups lead with example, it’s obvious that facts are up for (mis)interpretation. Everyone uses their own lens to interpret events, and playing with the reliability of narrators is a great way to keep the reader guessing. I think if someone really does know the future, the way the character December mostly does, you do have to be very cognizant of not boring the reader—it’s hard to surprise someone who knows everything, and readers are there to be entertained, not regurgitated information.
The book has elements of science fiction and magical realism. Did you set out to write into a specific speculative genre? Do they go together or do you feel the book sits with one in particular? Do the genres change the way you deal with things like visions/precognition/etc?
My favorite genre is what I consider to be contemporary fiction with a small speculative element, which is how The Other Side of Infinity presents to the world. I think there’s something appealing about that because it’s accessible for the reader–we’re living in their world, but unlike standard contemporary, there’s a secret element present in it; and in a typical fantasy, the gorgeous, transportive worldbuliding typically offers a separation for the reader in that it cannot happen to them. Both offer so much story value, but it’s possibly easier for the reader to believe there’s a secret about their own world that makes genres like this appealing. I tend to think of magical realism as having Latinx roots, which is why I define The Other Side of Infinity the way I do.
One of your pov characters is dyslexic. Why was it important for you to include this perspective in your story? What do you hope dyslexic readers will get out of the character?
I am neurodiverse, and I’m so glad I am. I’m a horrible aural learner—I need to read, see, or move to learn. I used to make up dances in my head to remember facts, and to this day, I often move around to write. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to identify the ways that I learn best. A very smart person in my life did not do well on tests, and you’d never know it based on their success now. While I was in college, I spent some time working as a substitute teacher in Deaf classrooms and in public school settings, and some of the brightest students dreaded the MCAS testing (Massachusetts standardized testing).
I understand the need from a curriculum perspective to identify learning gaps, but I very much do not think that what we currently offer is a great solution to that, so I had the character Nick share that ideal. I hope any reader, with or without dyslexia, finds validity in Nick’s experience.
Why should we read The Other Side of Infinity? Pitch us the book!
I always joke that my brand is unanswerable questions, and The Other Side of Infinity definitely fits into that bucket. In it, a teen uses her gift of foreknowledge to help a lifeguard save a drowning man―only to discover that her actions have suddenly put the lifeguard’s life at risk. Among this fallout of what-ifs, readers will enjoy a character’s first time experiencing real friendships, what it feels like to fall in love, and questions that make us think.
Joan F. Smith is the author of The Other Side of Infinity and The Half-Orphan’s Handbook, a dance instructor, and a former associate dean of creative writing. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. Joan lives and writes in Massachusetts, where she was the 2021 Writer-in-Residence at the Milton Public Library. When she’s not writing, she’s either wrangling her kids, embarking on a new hobby she will quickly abandon, or listening to podcasts on a run.
You can find more about her at joanfsmithbooks.com, and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @jf_smit.