Wild Awake

By Hilary T. Smith
Published on May 28, 2013
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Publisher for review
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

Seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd is going to be responsible while her parents are away on a cruise. She is going to practice the piano every day for hours on end. She is going to water the azaleas, eat healthy meals, and call her older brother if anything goes wrong. She is also going to win Battle of the Bands with her best friend/bandmate Lukas, and she’s going to make him fall in love with her in the process.
Instead, she finds herself stoned, meeting a stranger at a falling down hotel, and in love with a love-bison.
Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel Wild Awake lives up to its name; it’s a wild trip through Kiri’s unbelievable summer of self-discovery. And there is a lot that happens in this novel. Kiri’s sister Sukey was killed five years earlier, in what Kiri thinks was a tragic accident. When a phone call from a total stranger sends Kiri on a mission to discover how her sister really died, it opens doors in her life that she never imaged. It’s a whirlwind of sex, drugs, and yes, rock n’ roll.
I love how this novel is written in an almost poetic form. Kiri’s thoughts are full of beautiful metaphors and deep observations one may not expect from someone her age. “People are like cities,” she says, “We all have alleys and gardens and secret sidewalk cracks . . .” The main characters, particularly Kiri, Skunk, and even Sukey, are fully developed and relatable, with both passions and flaws. The reader is invited to discover all of Kiri’s alleys, gardens and cracks from her point of view.
This book may not be suitable for younger teens due to its references to drugs and sex. However, the only thing that bothered me as an adult reader was the excessive references to drug use. Kiri’s pot smoking helps filter the reader’s experience through her eyes. And while those experiences are sometimes beautiful, and sometimes chaotic, at other times they are trippy and downright scary. One particular scene in the novel involves Kiri downing several alcoholic drinks and leaving with a stranger who gives her yellow pills. The fact that Kiri walks away from that experience whole, seeming to have learned nothing, bothers me. It sends the message that being reckless doesn’t come with consequences.
Still, at the heart of this novel lies strong lessons about love—romantic love, family love, and self-love. I was left with a sense of hope at the end, and incredible love and concern for Kiri. Impressive for Smith’s debut novel. 

Crystalee Calderwood received her BA in English from Penn State in 2006 and her MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University in 2008. She is a poet and children’s writer. Her picture book Angeline Jellybean is available on Amazon and from 4RV Publishing. She is also a YA novel addict, a recently certified English teacher, and a freelance writer. You can follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Crystalee-Calderwood/43820141375 and at Twitter at @crystaleec. 

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