book cover of exile by kevin emerson

Magan: Exile by Kevin Emerson

book cover of exile by kevin emerson

Exile (Exile #1) by Kevin Emerson (twitter | website)
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 320
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: music promotion, bands, fame
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thank you!)

Summary: After being burned by her ex-boyfriend once he was signed to a major record label (thanks to Summer’s skills/help/knowledge/hard work), she’s on the hunt for a new band and a new beginning. She doesn’t anticipate that this will lead her to Caleb, whom she falls for, or that they’ll be on the search to solve a big mystery.


Summer is a local band promoter. She’s got sneaky ways of figuring out how to get her bands into the hippest venues and is a social media connoisseur. In fact, she’s so good that the last band she was managing got signed to a major record label. Oh yeah…her boyfriend was in that band. And guess what happened when they got signed? He said sayanara to Summer and left her behind with the memories of his lies and deceptions. Aside from the heartbreak she’s suffering through, Summer is most frustrated that none of her heard work is paying off for her. Shouldn’t she get some sort of credit for all the gigs she got them and the fan base she helped develop?

But it’s time for Summer to move on.

She connects with Caleb, who has recently had a major falling out with his own band. Taking him on is risky. Why are the people he spend forever making music with suddenly so anti-Caleb? Despite the warning signs, Summer is intrigued and helps him find new band members. Between Summer’s band promotion and Caleb’s songwriting, these two (oh so stereotypically) begin to fall for each other…which is exactly what Summer didn’t want to happen. Again.

Caleb, however, also has some major music industry connections that could propel his new band forward. Summer’s torn between wanting to respect Caleb’s wishes and doing what could really jumpstart their career. He wants to earn his fame on his own merit.

Exile is a fun, quick read that pulled me in simply because I’m a music lover. I thoroughly enjoyed the inside peek into what it might be like to manage a band and how burned Summer felt when she was cast aside when possibility came knocking on her former band’s door. I loved that Summer had to learn that you can’t help who you fall in love with, even if you’re trying your damnedest to guard your heart. The goose-chase to finding out what Caleb’s big news was and seeing how he would deal with each tidbit of information was really great, and I hope that readers connect with his strong desire to work hard and earn what they’re hoping for. (He really didn’t want to be given any handouts.)

Maybe my biggest point of conflict was connecting with Summer. There are hints at this double-life she’s living — the music promoter versus the good-student who might go to law school to please her father. There’s a lot of depth that can be explored there and I wish it hadn’t felt like as much of a side story. Realistically, I think it would have caused more of a struggle for Summer as she tried to perfectly balance all the plates she was juggling.

Final thought: Exile is the first book in a series. I’m terrible at keeping up with series these days. There’s something pretty refreshing about reading a book from start to finish and not waiting for more. I wish that had been the case for Exile.

PS: If you want to listen to a few of the songs from Exile, check them out on Kevin Emerson’s website and listen here.

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Extra bonus: I created a playlist of some songs I’m loving this summer. Enjoy!


Estelle: The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor

The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie ConnorThe Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor ( web )
Publication Date: June 24, 2014
Publisher: Harper/Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 368
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: family, family obligations/traditions, unhealthy relationships, friendship
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: Bettina comes from a very protective family (her father uber embraces their Green traditions) but manages to get her dad to approve of Brady, a basketball player at school who she falls into a sweet summer romance with. Once school starts, Brady’s popularity rises and he’s not who he was during that summer. Bettina feels a little stuck between her father’s expectations and Brady’s demands. When she meets “Cowboy” — a guy working at an auto shop — a friendship that could never be something more blossoms. In this space, she can be herself. Will she ever get to a point she can do that in her real life?

The Things You Kiss Goodbye features lovely prose that managed to leave this reader heartbroken but also hopeful.

For me, the most standout part of this novel were the family dynamics. Bettina’s family is Greek, and her parents subscribe to old school traditions — keep Bettina as close as they can, do not do not give her freedom. (In fact, B’s younger brothers are allowed to do more than she is.) Surprisingly, Bettina’s dad — Bampas — is won over by the polite and sweet, Brady, a boy from B’s school. Suddenly, B has the freedom to go out with her boyfriend and this is the summer she first falls in love.

This is a huge deal. Because of Bampa’s controlling nature, Bettina has quit ballet (something she loved) and with her best girlfriend moving away, this is the first time in a long time that B gets to hang out with other people her age and gain some kind of social life. But Brady’s friends never really warm up to her (she’s too weird for them… sigh) so it’s basically her and Brady — basking in their love and passion for one another. When school starts up again, Brady is suddenly more popular than he’s ever been and little by little, his personality changes. HE also becomes demanding and thinks belittling Bettina is cute and not totally awful.

B is naturally torn. Bampas has been open with his belief that B is too immature for a relationship and here she is, aware that she is in an unhealthy one. An unhealthy one that gets her out of the house. She can’t figure out what to do but she does find solace in her art and also a growing friendship with an older guy she nicknames “Cowboy” who works at the auto-shop near her school. As the reader, we know B is into Cowboy. She brings him coffee, they talk about everything she can’t talk about with Brady and her parents… there’s an intimacy between them that becomes such an important part of her everyday life.

What I like about this is I was never sure if Cowboy thought of her as a cute friend who happened to be a high school student or he actually felt something. I also never knew if and when Brady and B would break up. If B would ever get to a point where she would confide in her parents, forge a connection with them. There are many questions swirling around The Things You Kiss Goodbye, which means there are unexpected surprises too — the realizations you come to about your parent’s marriage, what you are capable of, and the gem of a friend you never thought you would make.

The Things You Kiss Goodbye is quiet and contemplative with vivid detail and memorable characters (the vivacious family friend named Regina); it’s about forgiveness and standing up for yourself and meeting your parents halfway. It’s a story where B is forced to grow up in ways that tug at your heartstrings but only make her relationships with her family, her friends, and herself that much stronger.

Words of advice: don’t rush through this one! Every word is worth savoring.

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Befriended with Corey Ann Haydu: Dedicated to Friendship

I’m so thrilled to share our second BEFRIENDED piece. I became an instant fan of Corey Ann Haydu’s when I read her debut OCD LOVE STORY last summer. Today (!!) her second book LIFE BY COMMITTEE hits bookstores everywhere and I am happy to say that I cannot choose a favorite between the two — I love them equally and oh-so-much.

Corey Ann Haydu Life By Committee

Today, we’re taking a slightly different approach to celebrating her book release. A few weeks ago I saw Corey tweet about the dedication in LBC:

To my cherished friend Honora, who is brave enough to share her secrets, and kind enough to listen to mine.

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty curious (a.k.a. nosy) when it comes to dedications and when she explained this was about her best friend and I knew Magan and I were talking about getting this feature started… it felt like fate. So because of all of that, I’m chatting with not only Corey about her new book, friendships, accepting your imperfections but also the subject of her dedication — Honora.

Corey Ann Haydu Life By Committee Best Friend Chat

Bicoastal best friends answering all the questions on a blog run by long distance best friends. It doesn’t get any better than that.


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Corey, it must be incredibly difficult to narrow down the dedication page. Was it something about Life By Committee that made you think about Honora? Or was it always what you wanted the dedication of your second book to be?

Corey: I definitely didn’t know while I was writing the book who I was going to dedicate it to. I think that’s something that comes after, when I have a sense of the themes and the heart of the story. I was at my apartment, chatting online with Honora when I realized the book was for her. LBC is about the scariest parts of yourself and the things that are difficult to talk about and the vulnerable places that you need to share and want to share and also desperately don’t want to share. My friendship with Honora is really special in the sense that it is a space where we’re both safe to be imperfect, I think. And to share hard, big things.

The book is also about compassion and bravery and strength, and those are all things Honora possesses in huge quantities.

Honora, how COOL is it that your super good friend is a published writer (and possibly the best tweeter I know)? I know Corey surprised you with an advanced copy and that’s when you saw your name in it for the first time. What did you think? 

Honora: It is VERY cool and I’m so proud of her and I should probably sign up for Twitter right now.  Let’s see, Corey told me she was sending a present with something special inside.  When I opened her book to the dedication page I was blown away. It was an amazing feeling, very special.  I felt so honored and it sincerely touched my heart.  A big smile inside.  I’m blushing now.

Corey Ann Haydu + Honora: Best Friend Chat at Rather Be Reading BlogWhat is it about your friendship that just clicks?

Corey: Honora and I have a lot in common, sort of on the inside. A lot of the things we’ve struggled with in ourselves and in our lives have been very similar, and we process relationships and fears and the world around us in really similar ways. And I think our friendship has been a LOT about acceptance. I always think of this one day, when Honora and I were living together in our early 20s. We’d recently graduated and my world was sort of falling apart—I had some Big Stuff happening in my family life and on top of that someone had stolen my wallet and the two guys I was half-dating weren’t calling me. I was a mess. The Big Stuff in my family was overwhelming and I wasn’t really processing very well. And I did something wacky with the dishwasher—maybe Honora will remember what? Like I think I maybe ran the dishwasher without dishes in it and then was shocked that no dishes had been cleaned? Anyway. I realized what I’d done, and I started laughing. And Honora was in the next room and came in to see what was up. And I could not stop laughing. And the laughing turned sort of crazy and manic and out of control and I couldn’t even explain what was so funny. And the laughing got so big and emotional that it turned into crying, and then sobbing. Like, this moment of hysteria and massive release in the midst of a terrible time in my life. And I was on the kitchen floor laughing and sobbing and in this state of total vulnerability and craziness, and Honora sat on the floor and laughed and cried with me. She just got it. That’s what our friendship is like.

Honora: I’m laughing to myself trying to think about what it was Corey did!  All I know is it was something pretty un- Corey like.  Nothing bad, but like she said, she was caught in a lapse of logic and then confused about it, which I get.  Sort of deer in the headlight, “what is going on with my reality?  Yikes, it is affecting me.  Am I going to laugh or cry?  I’m doing both! Ahh! Release, releasing is good.”

I feel like Corey gets me on so many levels and we do process things very similarly. When sharing tough stuff with her I feel safe, not alone, and accepted.  Truly accepted. I can meet her where I’m at- no editing needed and she’s so darn quick on the uptake!  And then we do share a humor…I’m laughing just thinking about laughing with her- she has a great laugh. I trust her completely.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you met?

Corey: We met within the first few days of orientation our freshmen year of college at NYU. Honora lived on the floor below me. She cracked me up—she had a great spirit. We were in Studio together at Tisch, which is the arts school at NYU. This meant we spent 8 hours a day three times a week with 12 other people in basically the most emotionally and physically vulnerable states you could ever imagine. It’s a really hardcore way to make friends—but MAN do you get to know each other. We also lived together for maybe four years.

Honora: I think when Corey mentions that I cracked her up…it was my particular, lets say, joie de vivre as recent Midwestern transplant to the East Coast.  I was very excited to be “out and about.”  (I still am).  And in studio, we just clicked.  I recognized a solid, interested, hardworking gal.  Pretty cool, looking back, how simple it was to connect with her.

What’s one thing about Corey that her readers should know?

Honora:  Good question!  Maybe that she got a C in one of our classes together.  It was a “mask” class where we danced around to tribal music and were supposed to intuit the energy of the mask (often without seeing the face of it) and create story and then admire how magical it was that the archetypes played their “correct” roles. (Disclaimer: It was a pretty fun class).

Anyhow, the teacher thought Corey should get a C because she showed up on time to every class so clearly she was “too perfect” and needed to learn a lesson.  It was CRAZY!  I’m so glad I showed up late and hungover at least once!  It just goes to show how people can “type you” and put all their mess onto you, meanwhile Corey is a real person-hard stuff and all- and a “C” isn’t helpful in the least.  It was pretty rotten of him.

Tab’s friends in Life By Committee ditch her when she gets cute and starts wanting to talk about boys and caring about clothes. Ugh. This made me feel for her SO much because abandonment like this stays with you forever. Did either of you face a similar issue with friends? Would you have approached the situation like Tab did?

Corey: I had a very similar experience to Tabby. I based little bits and pieces of her life on my time in high school. I had a really close group of awesome friends all through middle school, and early on in high school they decided they were disappointed in who I was becoming as a person. They very publicly let me know. It was devastating. I didn’t really recover until I was in college and able to start over and make new friends. In high school, I coped by having boyfriends. But especially at that age they are no substitute for friends. So I don’t recommend that!

Honora:  I think I lucked out on that end.  In terms of abandonment, third grade stands out as the hardest year with friendships.  It was when those “friendship necklaces” were introduced to us…where you and your BEST friend each have a half of the heart on a chain and together you complete the heart and you are BEST friends.  Which is great except that there are three other people you want to be your best friend and you thought that you were their best friend even though you got the necklace with this other girl who seems like a “good” best friend and they asked someone else to be THEIR best friend which emotionally crushed you…it was VERY stressful. I do remember feeling excluded and abandoned at times that year, people started forming clubs and cliques.  Most all that cleared up by 4th grade, thank goodness.  As I think about it, third grade was the first time I remember feeling that pang of sadness, maybe shame?  That was awful!

It’s no surprise that friendship struggles are a focus in YA books. These relationships define so much of who you are. But these moments often parallel how tough it is to be a friend and find trusted friends as an adult too. What lesson have you learned about adult friendships that surprised you most?

Corey: I’ve learned some friendships aren’t meant to last. It’s sad, but some people you are meant to be very, very close with for short periods of time, but not forever. And other people, like Honora, are meant to be in your life forever. And you probably don’t know which is which until you’ve put in like a decade. And that’s okay! A friendship can still be wonderful and meaningful even if it fades after a few years.

Also I have learned about BOUNDARIES! Those are really important. You should have them in all your relationships.

Honora:  I moved to Los Angeles about 4 years ago and it was hard to figure out how to nurture my friendships appropriately, since so many friends are out of state.  In the past year I’ve relaxed a bit I knowing that I don’t have to worry about “managing” things and it’s ok not to talk to everyone all the time.  Some friendships will fade into FB “likes” and some will grow or stay more intimate.  I’m super grateful for the internet and gchat.  I guess I’m surprised with how powerful technology has been in communication with friends who are long distance.  I know people talk a lot about how it’s perhaps less intimate, which I get, but in my experience, friendship and intimacy have translated pretty well across state lines via technology, etc. Uh oh- I should probably watch Her immediately.

Honora, were you nervous to read Life By Committee? (Sidenote: I was totally nervous to read it just as a “twitter” friend of Corey’s. What if I don’t like it????) What was your greatest takeaway of the book?

Honora: I guess there was an element of nervousness, because I loved her last book, OCD Love Story so much and I wanted to enjoy this one just as much.  Once I realized that there was a cozy coffee shop in this book I knew it was going to be ok.  And it was great. Personally my greatest take away is the feeling I get while reading it.  I feel a particular sense of safety…it’s weird…like while reading it, I know I can handle the uncomfortable and get excited and witness stressful stuff but in the end it will be ok.  I find so much comfort in Tabitha’s humanity.

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Estelle: Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

Life By Committee by Corey Ann HayduLife by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperTeen
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: secret relationships, online communities, friendship
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: Tabitha has been pretty lonely since her friends ditched her, citing her looks and interest in boys as reasons she has “changed”. Now, she has Elise and (secretly) Joe, a popular hockey player who has a serious girlfriend by day but tells Tabitha all his secrets at night. One day she stumbles on an online community called “Life By Committee.” It’s a safe place where she can divulge her most buried secrets and through “assignments” take control of her life. At first, Tabitha is inspired by this group, their drive, and feels empowered but when the assignments start to affect more of her world, she’s not sure what to think or how to get out.

Perfectly imperfect is how I like my book characters and Corey Ann Haydu delivers with Tab in Life By Committee. Not only is Tab a fan of Muppet music, a book lover to the extreme, and a totally normal teenager who helps her parents out with their cozy coffee shop in Maine, but, like any of us, she can’t help what she thinks, she doesn’t always make the wisest decisions, and she’s just trying to figure it all out.

Figuring it out includes a laundry list of things, by the way. Like why exactly her best friends turned totally petty and judgmental on her when she started getting into makeup and boys. (This doesn’t mean she stopped being a nerd.) Or why she can’t control her feelings for Joe, who makes her swoon every night with their online chats but still has a girlfriend. Or if her dad (Paul) can get it together and stop smoking up before her new sibling arrives?

As you can probably guess, Life By Committee pops up exactly when Tab feels like she has nowhere to turn. A small community of online “friends” she can admit her deepest and darkest secrets too? Who give her the courage and the extra push to move forward with what scares her the most? I mean, what can go wrong? Cue the foreboding music, friends.

All I could think of was Dawson during Season 1 of Dawson’s Creek as I got deeper and deeper into the book, and Tab got sucked further into LBC. (“My palms are sweating.” Except he was talking about Joey, and I was just freaking out about how this initial safe place turned wrong so fast.) To be a part of LBC, you divulge a secret and then are given an assignment by the LBC leader, Zed. In order to keep your secret a secret, you must complete the assignment or else.

At first, like Tab, I saw that assignments as something that would help another member seize the moment. But as the stakes were raised higher and higher, it was obvious the assignments would be affecting more than the LBC member but friends, family, reputations, and more. See? Scary stuff. I was internally freaking out about Tab and how she would exit the group without ruining absolutely everything, and stranded in a worse place than she started.

Even now, I feel incredibly anxious just thinking about it.

Life By Committee made me think a a lot about how we relate to others, and if we just see what we want to see. How could I not with the superficial reasons Tab’s friends had for dropping her? Or even how Tab felt for Joe. I wanted so badly to believe in Joe and think he was being real with her, that they had a future together. How secrets between friends and family members create such detachment that bridging it feels like climbing Everest. Or how loneliness and disconnect cause us to latch on to people and places, which provide no true help at all.

I was nervous to read LBC because Haydu’s OCD Love Story is one of the finest, most authentic debuts I’ve ever read. And I love that she created something so separate from her first book because the plotting and the characters are just as memorable but for different reasons. One thing she does continue to celebrate: the shades of gray that makes us human. We are not just ONE thing or ONE kind of way. Our thoughts, our actions, our feelings are constant changing, and we are not always going to do the right thing. Like someone asks in the book: “what if change were a comfort?” What if we weren’t so scared of it?

Even though it was very early into 2014 when I read LBC, the fact that it was so impossible to put down, the premise was so well-executed, and I related so much to Tab already secured it in my list of memorable years of the year. The writing is so fast-paced and at times so quote-worthy, I absolutely can’t wait to get a hard copy even if it means being a nervous wreck all over again reliving some of the most intense scenes I’ve encountered in YA.

So what am I saying? Haydu has officially made my auto-buy list. Also: read this.

Extra kudos: I love when a book cover fits the story absolutely so well. This is one of those circumstances.

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Estelle: Ashes to Ashes by Melissa Walker

Ashes to Ashes by Melissa C WalkerAshes to Ashes by Melissa Walker ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: December 23, 2013
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books (Harper)
Pages: 356
Target audience: Young adult, Paranormal
Keywords: afterlife, purgatory, young death
Format read: ARC borrowed from Jamie! (Thanks!)

Summary: A terrible car accident sends Callie to Prism (a purgatory before she can reach heaven), where she is trained to bring peace to her nearest and dearest: her father (already a widow), her best friend, Carson, and her boyfriend, Nick. Being so close to these people and not being able to BE with them is difficult, especially as she starts to piece together details of her life she never realized existed before. And then there is her spirit guide, Thatcher, who she feels immediately connected to. As he tries to teach her the proper way to bring peace to those left on Earth, she is distracted by others in the Prism who want to break all the rules.

As a huge fan of Melissa Walker’s contemporary young adult novels, I was super intrigued when I heard she was releasing a paranormal as her next book. For starters, the cover is gorgeous and second, I love when authors I adore take a leap into a new genre, especially when it’s not my go-to genre. It gives me a chance to try something new as well.

It’s true that the “afterlife” novel kind of upsets me, and I’ve steered clear of them until I read The Catastrophic History of You and Me a few months ago. It’s sad to think of a character who is dead, and has no hopes of returning to her regular living life. It probably depresses me more than anything, but I was super swept up in Jess Rothenberg‘s vision for the afterlife (unlimited pizza, reclaiming of prized possessions from the past, etc.) and I found myself really enjoying the story, knowing the main character was making a second life for herself.

Melissa’s version of the afterlife (this in-between before heaven) is called Prism, and I’ll be honest it’s sort of a lonely place. Callie is immediately heartbroken to discover her deceased mother is not waiting there for her with open arms. (She missed her crossing over.) In Prism, Callie’s main priority is granting peace to those she left behind, and when she is not haunting Earth doing that, she is to spend time alone in her “space” (which looks a lot like her bedroom back home), where she is not allowed to invite anyone in to spend time with her. I liked the idea of returning to friends and family and helping them move forward, but the rest of it felt so stark and gray.

The one bright light for Callie is Thatcher, assigned to help her with her duties back on Earth. When Callie died, she was deeply in love with Nick, but it seems as soon as she runs into Thatcher, she immediately forgets about Nick and is fixated on this looming figure in Prism. He’s not very sensitive to Callie and her grieving, and he’s not exactly forthcoming with any of details of his own life. But still, something draws her to him. While his attitude toward her makes sense later on, I still didn’t buy Callie moving on so quickly from Nick to Thatcher and I could have used more meat in this situation because I simply wasn’t convinced.

To top it all off, Callie is also lured by the other kids in Prism. The ones who want to stay young forever, and believe they know exactly how to continue their life on Earth after death. This part of the story was a bit too black or white for me; I half expected a Sharks vs. Jets musical dance off with Callie caught in the middle. Thatcher tried to warn her away from “the enemy” but Callie couldn’t help but be curious. I didn’t blame her. Prism seemed kind of boring.

Something about these intertwining plot lines didn’t entirely click for me. Was it a structural issue? Too much emphasis on one thing and not on the other? I’m not sure. Plus Callie’s voice felt so much older than it should, and I had to remind myself many times that she was only a teenager. As I moved toward the ending there were many developments I guessed correctly but I was left to wonder how things could possibly wrap up in book 2 when so much material was spent on one thing. (Am I being too mysterious?)

Despite the challenges I had with Ashes to Ashes, Melissa’s world building was definitely creative (bonus: Charleston setting!) and I also loved how she interjected slight changes in people’s pronunciation of certain words (i.e. Prism vs. prison), indicating their deeper feelings. Still, I wish there had been less insta-love, and more of the genuineness I’ve come to appreciate in Walker’s books. I have no idea where Book 2 will take these characters, but I’m still willing to invest my time to follow along.

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Other RBR reviews of Walker’s books:  Lovestruck Summer | Unbreak My Heart | Small Town Sinners

Estelle: Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

Wild Awake by Hilary T. SmithWild Awake by Hilary T. Smith ( twitter | web )
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Pages: 400
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.

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