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.

26 comments:

  1. I have seen this book around but I assumed it was nothing new or different. It sounded like a nice summer-read for me. I was wrong, again. I can't wait to read this one right now. I'm really curious how will I feel about it. Amazing review Keertana :)

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  2. It's the first review I read of this book and I really want to read it. I usually enjoy contemporary YA books a lot, and I understand that this one is totally different and much more mature and messy. I will read it because I'm always looking for different, deeper books.
    Thanks for sharing your opinion!!

    Sapir @ Diary of a Wimpy Teen Girl

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  3. Beautiful review Keertana! This was not the book for me, a little too chaotic and meandering I think, but I agree with you on Hilary's storytelling. I thought it was very well-written, and I'm so glad you found a contemporary YA that met your demands:):)

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  4. *dies* I LOVE this review, Keertana! I think this book seems like a hit or miss for people. The fact that this book is a mess (in a good way..) makes me curious to pick it up. Kiri really doesn't seem like the most enjoyable character out there, but it looks like Smith is able to make the readers understand her really well. I love the sound of this book, I'll definitely be giving this one a try now! Thanks for the gorgeous review, Keertana!

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  5. I totally thought this was light contemporary YA. Like you, I am kind of sick of reading cheesy contemps. I don't mind the ones that are also funny and well done but there aren't a ton of those. Wild Awake sounds like a trip and it also sounds heavy in a way that I will like--and Catie and Tatiana will probably like as well. We all love realistic books. What are readalike books to this, do you think? Courtney Summers? (besides This Is Shyness, I mean)

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  6. Beautiful review, Keertana! Real-life is anything but ordered and it seems like this story captures that. You're right, I don't really like reading a story with a lot of drinking and pot smoking but it does happen and as long as it doesn't dominate the story that's fine with me. I have this book as well. I'll try and be patient with the beginning. :)

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  7. This book sounds like a good book to read, but it makes me a bit iffy, because it either seems amazing to people, or really bad and hard to understand to others. It still makes me curious though. I may skip it in the end or I may not...it kinda depends.
    Superb review! it definitely makes me want to check it out!

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  8. Wow, gorgeous review Keertana! I'm so intrigued by this novel. It sounds quite different to what I had originally anticipated, but that's not a bad thing :) Contemporary YA is my favourite, especially contemp that really challenges the reader. (And I don't just been in an "edgy" or controversial way). I love your comparison to the sensation of reading This Is Shyness, by the way. Sounds like this one is definitely a unique reading experience! Can't wait to find out for myself..

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  9. Ugh. This is one of those books I know are good and I know for a fact I'm missing out, but I can't force myself to read it. I'm such a self-centered reader. I like to feel comforted and amused, and I know that Kiri's behavior would drive me straight out of my mind.

    I actually strated This Is Shyness once and thought it was far too weird.
    Then again, who knows? If you get me a blueberry muffin, I might be persuaded to try. Bribery will get you everywhere these days :D
    Beautifully written review, my friend.

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  10. I have to echo Maja's comment. I'm not sure I'd warm to Kiri at all, and while I realise that I don't have to like her to appreciate her character, I don't think I want to put myself through that. Not now, at least. This does sounds like a very realistic and well portrayed story, though. But definitely not the light, breezy read I imagined! I guess that's what happens when you judge a book by its cover. ;) Lovely review as always, Keertana!

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  11. This book just sounds so...strange. From the cover to the blurb, even to your review, I'm just not quite sure what to make of it. Despite how much I love a good coming of age book, this definitely doesn't sound like a "me" type of book. Your review is so beautiful that perhaps I'll reconsider my thoughts on it, and I'm glad you were able to really enjoy it. But for now, I think this'll be one of those books that I don't necessarily seek out, but that I won't object to reading if I crossed paths with it.

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  12. I really have not heard much about this book though I have seen the cover around I'm not sure I knew what it was even about. This really sounds like something I would enjoy though. The fact that she doesn't hold to the Serious Piano Student image and rebels and looks to find herself sounds good to me. Thanks for this wonderful review, it's going on my wishlist!

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  13. I am so excited to read this book! I like what I read from your review and other reviews. It sounds soo intense. I wouldn't have expected the grief aspect judging from the summary I read + cover! I'm glad you loved it.

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  14. Bring on the chaos! I pre-ordered this book and i'm anxious to read it! This sounds like my cup of tea, and from what you've said here, I have a feeling I'll love Kiri and Skunk and the entire book. Can't wait! Great review! :D

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  15. I just finished this book and am working on my review, so I didn't read yours (I will be back!). But I really really liked this one. A lot. The only thing I really saw in your review was the highlighted word grief, and I agree that this book is about that and how messy and vibrant life can be if you open yourself up to it. But it's also about madness, and I think this author did an amazing job at putting us in the head of someone suffering from hypomania - which is a huge symptom of bi-polar disorder, and how they self medicate with drugs and alcohol. As the story progressed Kiri began to get more and more out of control and it got a little bit scary at times - but it was all written amazingly well and I felt like I was living it all with her. I also fell head over heals in love with Skunk. So many layers to that boy! I hope these two are happy and sharing each other's crazy - but also keeping healthy too.

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  16. As always your review is so beautiful Keertana! I know I say this for practically all your reviews, but it's the honest to god truth lol. I have to say the cover seems quite misleading eh. I love the cover of this book and at first glance I would have thought that it was a lighthearted book from the cover, but sounds really interesting. Butttt....I'm not sure if I'll actually pick this one up because of the main character. I'm all for character development as you know, but I'm not really someone who does well with unlikable main characters. I'll let you know if I pick this one up :).

    Savindi

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  17. Okay! You have convinced me. Not that I needed much convincing. You haven't led me wrong yet so I shall pick this up when I can. Thanks for the wonderful review. <3

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