Review: Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith


Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy.

___________________________________

When people ask me why I loved Wild Awake, I have a difficult time putting my reasons into words. This book is very different than any other contemporary YA book I’ve read, in a good, but indescribable way. For me, the most notable aspect of Hilary T. Smith’s debut was how incredibly real it felt… so real, that, during the most intense passages when Kiri is in the depths of a mental breakdown, I had to take a deep breath, calm myself and steady my shaking hands.

Wild Awake tells the story of Kiri, a budding classical pianist who also plays keyboard in the band she belongs to with her best friend, Lukas. Years prior, Kiri’s sister, Sukey, the black sheep of the family and Kiri’s hero, died in an accident. Kiri knows little about the event, only remembering her sister through girlhood memories, because Sukey is a taboo subject in the eyes of Kiri’s parents and older brother. When Kiri’s parents leave her home alone while on vacation, she thinks she’ll accomplish all sorts of things in her time alone: she’ll take her relationship with Lukas from friends to more than friends, she’ll perfect the piece she must learn on piano, and she’ll rock Battle of the Bands with Lukas. Things take an unexpected turn, however, when Kiri receives a call from a man claiming to be a one-time neighbor of Sukey… a man who says he has her “stuff.” Though Kiri tries to write off the call, she’s drawn to the things her sister has left behind. In no time at all, she’s discovered that there’s more to Sukey’s story than anyone admits… and more to her own as well.

I’ve attempted to find other books to compare to Wild Awake to better explain the tone and style of the novel, but the only acceptable comparison I came up with was the film Juno. Still, Juno is different in that it has laugh-out-loud moments. Wild Awake has a humor of sorts, but I never laughed aloud… But, as I read, I did picture scenes from the novel in the same sort of style as Diablo Cody’s film. It tells the same sort of truths.

The romance in Wild Awake felt different than anything else I’ve ever read as well. Again, real. The boy Kiri eventually falls for is far from perfect. To me, it didn’t even feel like Smith romanticized anything. The romance, like the entire novel, just was. Kiri’s experience like something that could happen to me, my best friend, or any other girl. 

I feel like I’ve completely failed at explaining how worthwhile of a read Wild Awake is, but, like I mentioned before, it’s a book that truly defies simple explanations… which I suppose could quite possibly be reason enough to read it.

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Katherine Tegen Books, May 2013, Hardcover, ISBN:9780062184689, 375 pgs.

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