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Book Review: WILD AWAKE by Hilary T. Smith

There are all kinds of high school experiences. I've read great book after great book about student athletes, artists, and gamers. But of late I've been thrilled by a trend in books that reflect how I spent my high school days: listening to rock music, going to rock shows, and surrounding myself with rockers. The latest, and one of the most fun, examples is Hilary T. Smith's WILD AWAKE, out next week.

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.
Kiri is the richly drawn narrator of Smith's debut novel, and she hums along through the book trying to find a place for her electric energy and crackling mind, though as she flies through the challenges of the book we begin to recognize that Kiri hasn't yet learned the difference between finding transcendence and flying off the rails.

After her parents go away for the summer, and a mysterious phone call unearths the mystery of her sister's death---and the related grief she's never been able to work through---Kiri sets out to find answers. In her life till now, much of Kiri's kinetic energy was spent trying to become something her sister, a free-spirited artist rejected and spurned by her parents, would be proud of. But when she discovers the truth of her sister's life is more unsavory then she imagined, Kiri is left with an entirely different set of questions. What does it mean to give yourself over to a creative life? Is it possible to live at the edge of experience and keep relationships that expect her to toe the line, like her family? How far is too far when searching for your own voice?

Smith (otherwise known as INTERN) packs the book with a voice that sings. Her creative phrasing and killer dialogue were so fresh and full of zing, I found myself rereading lines again and again, saying them aloud to hear their music. Ultimately, though the conflicts were not resolved with total coherence, Smith's bold style and Kiri's vibrant resonance made the read so damned fun, I'd recommend it to anyone. But most especially, anyone who held an instrument as a kid and found a new part of themselves every time they played it.
Sarah Enni

Sarah is a young adult author and host of the First Draft podcast. She is represented by Sarah Burnes at The Gernert Company.

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  1. WILD AWAKE sounds interesting. I'll have to give this one a read. :)

  2. A manic and hurtling read that I adored from the very first line. A must, must read for all.

  3. This book just sounds so very, very bizarre. Even after reading some reviews, I'm not quite sure what to make of it or whether it would be a book that I'd actually enjoy reading. That is pretty cool, however, that Smith focuses on a character with a mental disorder and apparently doesn't dramatize it. I'm still not sure whether it's the kind of book that I'd appreciate, but I'm glad you were able to enjoy it.

    Irene Jennings of Cold Laser Dallas


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Item Reviewed: Book Review: WILD AWAKE by Hilary T. Smith Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Sarah Enni