Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith ( twitter | web )
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Target audience: Mature young adult (drug use, murder)
Keywords: music, family, siblings, summer, family secrets
Format read: Paperback borrowed from Jamie at Perpetual Page Turner.
Summary: Kiri is ready to make this a summer to remember with the house all to herself while her parents are on a long summer vacation. She knows she has to keep up with her piano lessons in preparation for the big symposium, but she’ll also be rocking out with her best friend aka the guy of her dreams, Lukas, in their band in hopes of winning Battle of the Bands. A call from a stranger changes the course of her summer, when she finds herself heading into a seedy part of town to pick up the possessions of her dead older sister years and years after she died in an accident. And suddenly the summer changes…
In her debut, Hilary T. Smith weaves electrifying visuals with a raw (and fresh) writing style, as our main character discovers that life as she knows it is a complete mystery.
Kiri is a genius pianist with a golden future ahead of her. She also plays the synthesizer in her best friend, Lukas’ band. She’s a sister (to a brother named Denny and her deceased older sister, Sukey). She smokes pot. She loves to ride her bike. And the straight path she thinks she is on — the one that includes taming her eyebrows, wooing Lukas, and keeping up with her piano lessons — is suddenly busted wide open when she receives a call from a stranger who claims he has the last of her sister’s stuff and it’s her last chance to come around and pick it up.
This is when Kiri’s surroundings become like a ticking time bomb, or some kind of twisted version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart… except the ticking and the constant beating that her family has been trying to ignore and bury deep into the earth is: truth. What really happened to Sukey? Why wasn’t Kiri in the loop? Why does no one talk about her now? What is going on with her family? What is going on with her?
In the midst of these tragic and emotional discoveries, peppered with memories of a sister she idolized and cared so deeply about, Kiri bumps into Skunk one day, a random guy who seems nice enough and fixes her bike. And then she bumps into him again and they begin to bond in a way she hasn’t been able to do with others — partly because he knows this new truth. Their coupling is totally unconventional — it’s not based on looks or having a certain hobby in common. It really feels like happenstance. Kiri and Skunk slowly begin to depend on another, and even when the relationship reaches this peak of perfection (hello, Chapter 24) — nothing, still, is as it seems.
After a lifetime of balancing many roles — a kid who is motivated just to make her parents happy, the girl a guy can’t see, the rocking girl in a band — Kiri is spiraling, spiraling out of control. She can’t sleep, she can’t shut her mind off, and she continues to fall, fall, fall into some dangerous black hole. It’s amazing how much grief can transform you, even when it’s retroactive… even when you thought you were done with all of that.
Smith gives Kiri such a vivid voice — she’s insecure, she’s artistic, she feels sexy, she feels free, she feels stuck. Will she be able to crawl out of this? Confide in someone? Be honest with her parents? Be honest with herself? Wild Awake isn’t your typical summer contemporary novel. The vibrancy the beautiful cover promises is not immediately apparent. In ways, this novel reminds me so much of Kirsty Eagar’s Raw Blue, a story that may have been centered on a horrific moment but still celebrates the lighter moments in life while balancing tough consequences and decisions.
So even if I didn’t necessarily understand Kiri’s actions all the time — they were legit insane out-of-control — they felt like authentic reactions to when your life is turned on its axis and spun and spun until you are so dizzy… nothing looks right anymore. I hoped for Kiri to find some peace, to find a friend, learn to hold true to her memories and not let them be tainted by the events of this summer, and, most importantly, come to terms with what she wants for herself.