by Hilary T. Smith
Read: May 12 -13, 2013
Published: May 28, 2013 by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Around The World Arc Tours
Category: Contemporary YA
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. (From Goodreads)
I loved this book so much. I'm going to do my best to articulate why I fell hard for it, but I'd like to start off by apologizing for how excessively long this review is. I also realize that not everyone will feel the same way that I did about this story, and it's possible that I liked it for all the wrong reasons. Honestly with all the drug induced shenanigans this girl gets up to, I'm surprised I enjoyed Wild Awake as much as I did. But I really, really did.
That book description above is extremely vague, what exactly is Wild Awake about?
Wild Awake is about a girl who wakes up to the life going on around her. She discovers that it is messy and loud and not easily organized (or categorized). It's also painful and vibrant and glorious. Wild Awake is about pressure and expectations and grief and madness. It is a series of moments strung like Chinese lanterns on a wire, more vibrant when you hang them all together.
So maybe that wasn't much more helpful. Basically, Wild Awake is about a girl named Kiri, who is home alone for 6 weeks during the summer, while her parents are on a cruise around the world. She's supposed to be practicing for her upcoming piano recital and preparing for Battle of the Bands with her hopefully-more-than-friend Lukas. While Kiri does a lot of playing, her carefully planned schedule goes completely off track somewhere along the way. She also falls in love with the wrong guy (thankfully). But it's a random phone call from a stranger who tells her that he has some of her dead sister's stuff, that really throws everything off course, or sets it in motion.
Five reasons why I loved Wild Awake:
1) Madness. At first, Wild Awake seems to be another YA book about self-discovery. Kiri learns some information about her sister, which freaks her out, and makes her reexamine her views on a lot of things. Kiri's parents are gone, so she has a lot of freedom, and with that freedom she begins to explore and experience life and love. She does it a bit excessively at first, but she's a teen and they do that, right? But then Kiri's behavior gets wilder, and sometimes very dangerous. Her casual, experimental, drug use* becomes more excessive and frightening. And you start thinking, maybe this is more than just teenage exploration? Maybe there is something serious and not-normal going on here. I love how Hillary Smith puts us inside Kiri's head. Lets us experience along with her, the creeping madness that overtakes her. And lets us become just as confused about what is going on as Kiri is. To put it in psychological terms, Kiri suffers from hypomania throughout the course of this book, or an extended manic period. This book doesn't really go into specific terms for mental illness, but it demonstrates in clear and loud ways, what it's like to be inside of it, experiencing it.
Kiri is not the only person in this book who has some form of diagnosable mental illness, and one of the elements about this book that I love the most is how accurate, real and personal these characters' experiences and struggles are. This book also prompted a long discussion with my husband about psych disorders (I LOVE when a book prompts a discussion). He works in mental health, and we both agreed that this book is a very accurate picture of individuals living with mental illness. I really appreciated that Smith showed the beauty and danger of someone in the midst of an episode (or Thing as Kiri calls it). Letting us fall in love with them even more because of who they are, good, bad and complicated.
2) Music. I am not musically inclined, although I love to listen. But my best friend growing up is a professional musician, and throughout high school she practiced at least 3 hours a day and felt guilty and incomplete if there was a day that she didn't pick up her instrument. As she grew up, she grew out of the feeling of being lost when she wasn't playing, and I really loved watching Kiri do the same. Kiri is even more hard core than my friend. Three hours is nothing to her, and though it made her dedication to her art seem excessive at times, it really wasn't that odd for a Serious Musician. It is clear that Kiri is a musical genius, but as the book went on and her mania continued, she got a little crazy about it. Did you know that creative brilliance is sometimes combined with manic disorders? That is clear in Kiri's case, and also some of the other characters. But I really love how the author used the evolution of Kiri's musical focus to show both her personal awakening and self-discovery, but also the good and bad ways in which creative talent is affected by mania.
3) Kiri. I don't know if Kiri and I would be friends in real life. I think she would have been way too much for me to handle. I've never done drugs, or drunk excessively, or even stayed up all night (I'm a wimp. I need my sleep!). But I really enjoyed being inside her head. She is amusing, a little self-depricating, brilliant, and at times really out there. But even when she was making terrible decisions, and marching right off the deep end, I loved her. It was absolutely fascinating to be inside the mind of someone experiencing hypomania. It can induce creative brilliance, but as it wears on, becomes frightening and often leads to self medication with drugs and alcohol, both of which happened to Kiri.
4) Skunk (aka Love-Bison). At first, Skunk did not seem like much of a catch. He smokes (that's an automatic turnoff for me), and Kiri doesn't make him sound all that appealing physically. He doesn't appear to have a job, and his biggest ambition is to fix bicycles. Then I got to know him more and was quite intrigued. By the end of this story, I'd fallen hard for the guy Kiri calls her Love-Bison (you will learn to swoon over that endearment too).
Skunk is not the usual YA romantic lead, but still his relationship with Kiri is one of the most compelling romances that I've read recently. They are two broken people, who are both a little left of center, but in many ways that makes them better equipped to handle each other. Their love story is written a little unconventionally for a Contemporary YA. It is not the central tension in the story, though it is an important part of this book. Like all of Wild Awake, we are shown pieces and glimpses of their relationship - bicycle rides, tea drinking, radios and dancing in the rain. It's not all the same progression that other books highlight about new love, but their connection comes across clear and strong.
4b) Bicycles. Kiri and Skunk meet because Kiri's bicycle pops a tire, and they continue to experience several delicious moments on or around bicycles. I never knew bicycle repair could be so appealing.
5) All the other characters. From Kiri's sister Sukey, who comes across as vibrant and larger than life, despite the fact that she's been dead 5 years when the book begins, to old and perpetually drunk Doug who has a three legged cat, the more insane the character in this book, the more I liked them. I even enjoyed Kiri's piano teacher and her Serious Piano Student Nelson. Smith has the amazing ability of writing people who are incredibly flawed, showing you all of their their warts, and still making you care about them. That is one thing I liked best about this book. Despite the painful truths that Kiri learns about her older sister, she still adores her, misses her and celebrates her.
A little levity. As much as I loved this story, I did have a slight problem with the setup of the book. Kiri's parents leave her with no adult supervision for an excessive amount of time. Then every time she spoke to them on the phone, they were distracted and oblivious, in a strange and uncomfortable way. But thankfully at the end of the book, they actually show themselves to be Real Parents. Noticing that Kiri has something not-usual going on with her, and taking appropriate action to help her out. Even Kiri's brother and Skunk's aunt, whom I sort of wanted to vilify at first, end up being voices of reason. That is the other, more sobering side of this book: we all need a little perspective in our lives, and some people need more of it than others. Accountability is important to keeping a person from tipping past a little on the edge, to completely out of control and in need of intervention. My hope for these characters is that they continue to live life to its fullest, but also find a balance, and seek help when they need it.
Love Triangle Factor: Very Mild
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone
*I do not condone any sort of drug use, casual or not. Nor I do think it is required for self-discovery or being a teen.