Sunday, May 12, 2013
ARC Review: Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
Title: Wild Awake
Author: Hilary T. Smith
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: May 28th, 2013
I think the last time I felt this strangely disjointed and certifiably insane after reading a book was shortly after closing the cover of This is Shyness, which is pretty darn perfect. Wild Awake is...life. Hilary T. Smith's debut is one of those books that will spark controversy once the right people read it; the kind of people who don't fully understand this book and want to tear it down. For others, though, Wild Awake will sing a special tune, will whisper a secret world, and unlock a store of hidden memories and dreams. As for me, I think I fall somewhere right smack-dab in the middle because Wild Awake left me speechless, but still slightly doubtful of my true feelings for it.
Wild Awake is a novel about grief. And, as you know, grief makes people do crazy things. At first glance, this seems to be a novel about a girl who has her entire summer spread out before. Not only have her parents left her alone at home, gallivanting on vacation themselves, but her older brother is away at camp, leaving Kiri, our protagonist, to a summer of piano practice and smoking pot with her best friend. Yet, Kiri’s seemingly perfect summer is disrupted by a phone call that tells her to pick up her sister’s belongings – her sister's belongings from five years ago when she died – and her whole world is turned upside down.
Now, to be perfectly honest, Wild Awake startled me at times. It is a realistic portrayal of life, which is possibly why it's so messy and chaotic. Kiri is a protagonist who is lost within her world after the sudden revelation of her sister's death, but she's also focused on entering into a piano competition, and she's also crushing on her best friend, and her parents are also away on vacation for months on end, and she's also flirting with a bike repair guy named Skunk and...you get it. Kiri is not just defined by her sister's death, a death she never got the time to mourn. A death she was unable to understand five years ago and is unable to come to terms with now. As Kiri has ups-and-down, as she spirals through life, not everything is perfect. At times, you can only watch as everything collapses and at other times, you cannot help but laugh right along Kiri as life displays its infinite beauty to her.
You are along with Kiri for this ride, though, that much is made clear. Hilary T. Smith is a talented writer, the kind who uses evocative phrases and drags you into her story. Emerging from Wild Awake is like waking up from a dream. Was all that real? Is it real? Can it be real? Yes, yes it can. As crazy as Wild Awake gets, it is an honest portrayal of a teen coping with her grief, with her sexuality, with growing up, and with finding who she is. It isn't pretty, and Kiri is often not likable - I still don't know if she's someone I would befriend - but Smith makes you crawl into her skin and understand her, no matter what. Moreover, you find your heart breaking at random moments, you yourself not sure why this book has affected you so. It's one of those books where if you look out the window for a second or two, you'll feel yourself being dragged further in or tearing up. Or both.
Of late, I've been running around complaining about contemporary YA. You may not have realized it, but I have. I've been demanding a novel that chronicles real friendships, that chronicles messy relationships, that deals with sexual desires, that allows a girl to be as un-contained and disaster-driven in life as she wants to be without being labeled as a rebel. Anything. Wild Awake responded to ALL of this.
Although Kiri's parents are absent for most of the book, their short appearance at the end makes up for this completely. Denny, Kiri's brother seems to be a rather stereotypical older brother at first, but their rocky relationship is real and gives way to hidden layers beneath. Kiri’s friendships, too, change, evolving into a connection that inspires more nostalgia than anything else over time. Even Kiri's own romance with Skunk is slightly sudden, rather strange, but oh-so-right. Both Skunk and Kiri aren't completely normal, aren't at complete right angles in their lives and by being together, things don't get solved. If you’re looking for one of those broken-people-heal-each-other novels, you won’t find it here. Yet, their presence, their understanding, their unconditional love...it helps them find their way independently, which is so much stronger than any all-consuming romantic angle could ever be.
Yet, best of all, I love Kiri. I love that Smith allows Kiri to lash out at others, to drink, to smoke pot, to do everything that a Serious Piano Student shouldn't do. And yet, Kiri is also that serious student. Kiri is more than her label and her drinking and running around at midnight isn't just her becoming a rebel, it's her finding herself. Smith isn't telling teens to do what Kiri is doing. Although her novel has drug usage in it, it isn't about using drugs. It's about getting out experiencing life and about coming to terms with who you are in whatever way you need to. And, granted, it doesn't espouse or suddenly liberate girls from their self-contained roles in life, with their parents, or in schools as either the timid goody-two-shoes or the punk-rock-rebel or the depressed-goth-chick. It doesn't outright do this all, but by making Kiri someone who can't be defined, by someone who is everything and more, I have fallen in love with Wild Awake.
The Bottom Line? Give Wild Awake a chance. I know the first few chapters are strange. I know that books about drinking or pot or hangovers aren't ones that most people want to read about. I know that there are other realistic books out there that aren't even half as messy as this one. But just try. If you don't like it, you only gave up a few short hours. And if you do, you just might find that small piece of your heart, so minuscule you didn't even know it was missing.
Thank you to Harper Collins for providing me with an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.