You will either love WILD AWAKE or you will not. There is very little in-between with this one. Fair warning. A lot of readers have been confused by the way events play out, while others embrace the way debut author Hilary. T. Smith is able to portray a teen mentally spiraling downwards out of control. WILD AWAKE depicts her journey in a way not often seen in novels, and the writing style may not be for everyone.
The book centers around Kiri, a girl left home alone for the summer while her parents go off on a cruise for their 25th anniversary and her brother stays at college for a lab internship. She doesn't mind being alone, and often hangs out with her best friend Lukas, a guy she's secretly in love with. They're in a band together and spend a lot of time practicing for Battle of the Bands and getting stoned. Kiri is also preparing for an up-and-coming important International Young Pianists' Showcase. She plans to spend her summer doing these two things. She doesn't expect to receive a telephone call from a man telling her to come pick up her dead sister's stuff before it's too late. She begins spiraling downwards, especially upon finding out the truth behind her older sister's death that her parents kept hidden for so many years. She idolized her sister when she was little and can't comprehend the new information. With no one in the family home to guide her and offer a shoulder to fall back on, Kiri is sucked into her own head and lets go of everything she ever held important, sinking deeper and deeper into her newfound grief even as she opens herself up to new experiences.
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Smith is able to portray grief and the way it breaks a person so well. Kiri is utterly destroyed upon finding out the truth behind her sister's death, and it truly affects her well-being. Because her parents and older brother are away, there's no one to help her through this tough time for far too long. When someone is there, it's been far too long. For this reason, many readers may find themselves perplexed because the story dissolves. Everything is from Kiri's persepective, however, and we continue to see the world through her eyes...and Kiri can no longer see clearly. She no longer sleeps and relies too strongly on mind-altering substances, but can't comprehend how much she's changed. Smith is a pro at taking readers through madness in a way I haven't experienced since Libba Bray's perplexing Printz winner GOING BOVINE. It's incredibly realistic and raw, and Smith has a beautiful way of wording sentences and phrases that make you want to cling to them before they dissipate from the page. WILD AWAKE is full of pivotal moments that come from growing up: Making mistakes, finding love, discovering yourself, and learning to let go. Many teens rebel and learn life lessons the hard way; Kiri is no exception. Her journey is messy and never easy, but if you're willing to embrace the experience, Smith's debut novel is one wild ride.