In Wild Awake, Hilary T. Smith’s exhilarating and heart-wrenching YA debut novel, seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd has big plans for her summer without parents. She intends to devote herself to her music and win the Battle of the Bands with her bandmate and best friend, Lukas. Perhaps then, in the excitement of victory, he will finally realize she’s the girl of his dreams.
But a phone call from a stranger shatters Kiri’s plans. He says he has her sister Sukey’s stuff—her sister Sukey, who died five years ago. This call throws Kiri into a spiral of chaos that opens old wounds and new mysteries.
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.
First sentence: “It’s the first day of summer, and I know three things: One, I am happy. Two, I am stoned. Three, if Lukas Malcywyck’s T-shirt was any redder I would lean over and bites it like an apple.”
Why didn’t anything happen in you, Wild Awake? I wanted you to be good, but unfortunately, you were not because nothing happened and goddamn, your main character and the prose was cringe-worthy.
Yes, that’s right, my dear friends. Nothing really happen. Yeah, Wild Awake seemed true to everyday life since life doesn’t have an overarching plot, and I would’ve enjoyed it if I hadn’t disliked the main character. It is a mess (albeit, somewhat fitting to the main character’s state of mind). When I was a few chapters into the book, I thought it’ll be about Kiri Bryd, dealing with her grief over the death of her sister, but it is only to an extent? In a way, you can say that her inability to do so leads her in this weird, stream of consciousness story about her entire summer that was full of obsessive piano playing, lusting over her close friend Lukas, traipsing around the dark in a very bad neighborhood on a bike, and hanging out with semi-unsavory folks. Other than that, all the characters fall short of making me actually care for them and the content, which is a shame.
- Kiri’s grief + the way she spirals out of control
I like the way Kiri’s grief is portrayed and how she spirals out of control when everything she has ever known — her sister’s death, the pressure of expectations, her music, her feelings — collapses onto her. Kiri never properly grieved for her sister, and when she finds out the real cause of her sister’s death and what her life was like. Kiri’s heart is ripped out of her chest again. She idolizes her sister and wants to think the best of her, but this newfound knowledge of her sister is too much for her to handle. Her sister is even further away from her than she anticipated because she didn’t know her sister as well as she thought. She can’t cope and thus, we get to see her try to find herself and figure out where she is in relationship to her sister.
You get to see her mania through her eyes. I liked seeing the thoughts that went through her head when she was high. It is very startling and in your face. You are dropped into her erratic train of thought and you can’t help but feel annoyed and sad about how she’s coping (or not coping).
- Music as a drug
Yes, there is actual drug usage (mainly weed and miscellaneous pills) in Wild Awake, but you can also say that music is like a drug for Kiri. I like that it’s her main vice. She’s obsessed with it. She spends hours practicing. When she feels horrible or is unsure of herself, she throws herself into music and everything else in the world fades away. It’s just her and the music. Nothing has to change between them. But it’s a dangerous line when she spends days doing this. She’s not really dealing with the lost of her sister; she’s numbing herself from the pain of it.
- The prose.
Sure, the prose is beautiful, but I just wasn’t a fan. It is too out there and cringe-worthy. There’s a tonnnn of similes and I didn’t care for them because it feels like it was trying to be deep when it actually feels forced. Do people have the ability to instantly think of one every single moment to describe their situation? No. I don’t think Kiri, or anybody on the world, could consistently come up with similes.
- Kiri Byrd
Oh, Kiri. *dramatic sigh* I wanted to like you but weren’t a character full of clichés or stereotypes. You seemed to have real depth, but goddamn, that depth ran a little shallow. Your actions irritated me. You were totally immature and unbearable.
I like to think that Kiri knows better, but she doesn’t act like it. She’s erratic. She does insanely dumb things. (And I’m not talking about the fact that she smokes weed or drinks or anything because what teen hasn’t done that?). I am forever annoyed that she —
I can sort of forgive her actions when she’s going in her downward spiral, but everything before that (like the scene I just described above? Nahhh. (I am petty and I hold grudges.) I get that teenagers can be irresponsible, and I know Kiri’s trying to cope and “find herself,” but fuck. I did not like the way she went about it. I guess I don’t find her relatable, hence my dislike for her.
- The stupid romance between Kiri and Skunk
I didn’t get it. There was no build-up to their relationship. No chemistry. Nothing. They didn’t even talk that much. They went on bike rides and hung out, but really? That’s enough for Kiri to declare she’s in love with Skunk after a couple of days? Ummmm. Sure, being with him is freeing and all, but in love? WUT ARE YOU ON? Weren’t you in love (or more like in lust) with your best friend, Lukas a few chapters ago? And the names they call each other — Bicycle boy, Crazy girl, love bison — yuck. Grosssss. Talk about cringe-worthy. I just couldn’t even get into the idea of the two together.
- The lack of parental presence
What parent, in their right mind, leaves their teenage daughter alone at home without a caregiver or a relative to watch over her while they are off on a six-week cruise? It’s fine that the parents want a vacation away; they are entitled to that, but seriously though, why didn’t they get someone to watch over Kiri when they’re gone? It felt totally unbelievable since Kiri’s parents don’t seem like the neglectful-type and would want what happened to Sukey not happen to Kiri. Just because their daughter is well-behaved doesn’t mean anything when you are out of the picture. Don’t they know what can happen when they leave a teenager alone at home? (They act out.)
Wild Awake is one of those books that I fall in the middle of like and dislike. It was decent enough, but I didn’t feel very sympathetic to any of the characters. I appreciate what Hilary T. Smith tries to do with her book, but it just isn’t for me. I felt it was too erratic and messy because of the lack of plot and the irritating main character. If only I liked Kiri, I may have enjoyed the book better.