by Hilary T. Smith
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
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.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
It's kind of cool to read a book that's set in a place that you know quite well. That's why I was kind of excited to read Wild Awake, which takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia. You don't often see that city in young adult books... especially not the Downtown East Side. (Early on in the book, Kiri takes a bike trip into the area and promptly gets lost, which led to me wanting to shout at her like she was some doomed heroine in a horror movie: "No! Don't turn down that needle-strewn alley!") The downside of reading a book about a place you're familiar with is that any mistakes the author makes are glaringly obvious and distracting. I don't know much about Hilary T. Smith or about how much time she spent in Vancouver. But I have my suspicions that she's not a local. I twigged when Kiri repeatedly referred to "ninth-grade girls". A Vancouver teen would most likely say "Grade Nine girls". Awkward, yes. But it's one of those little details that are so important to get right if you want to convince readers that your character actually lives where you say they live.
And speaking of details, there were a few that were so weird that they took me out of the flow of the story repeatedly. I don't know how Kiri learned to eat a pomegranate, but you don't bite it like an apple, suck all the fruit off the seeds, and then spit the seeds out. When a cat walks on a hard floor, you generally don't hear its claws. And melatonin is not a tranquilizer that'll knock you out for eight hours. I got the feeling that so many of the quirky little touches were added into the narrative just to make it seem hip. When they were wrong (like in the examples above), it was jarring. Most of the rest of the time, though, the writing just came off as pretentious.
Kiri's sudden shifts from normal, semi-responsible teen to erratic, mentally ill pothead really threw me. I kept thinking, "What is wrong with this girl? This is not normal behaviour." And that was kind of the point. In this book, mental illness is a major theme... and yet the Goodreads synopsis makes it seem like a sweet coming-of-age story with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. Had I known what this book was really about, I probably wouldn't have read it. Not that mental illness isn't an important topic, or that it can't be addressed well in books for teens. I was just expecting something entirely different.
I don't think this angsty, literary wannabe was for me. But then, I'm not the biggest fan of contemporary novels. It's more of a character-driven book than anything else, and I was looking for more plot. If you like books about teenage angst, mental illness, and drug abuse written in flowery prose, you might get something out of Wild Awake. But I have to say that I wasn't really wowed by this one.
Overall: 2.71 out of 5