Kiri lives for music. Classical piano consumes her life hours on end. She practices so much, it borders on obsession. With her showcase coming up, she needs to nail Khachaturian and Prokofiev. When she is not playing the piano, then she is practicing on her synth with her bandmate and best friend, Lukas. Their goal is to win the upcoming Battle of the Bands. Since it’s summer vacation and Kiri’s parents are away on a cruise to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary, Kiri is pretty much left to her own devices. Her brother, Denny, decided to stay at his college to assist his professor’s research and her sister, Sukey, died five years ago. The closest supervision she is left with is Lukas’ mother who does not approve of Kiri’s parents leaving Kiri behind on her own.
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.
Then Kiri receives a strange call. Someone wants her to pick up Sukey’s things. This is how she learns that there is more to Sukey’s death than her parents, and even Denny, ever let on. Kiri is determined to uncover the secrets that have been hidden from her all along. Coping with her discoveries however proves to be much more difficult than she had anticipated. Thankfully, she meets Skunk along the way, who helps her escape the pain of reality. Still, sooner or later one of them is bound to spiral out of control.
Wild Awake was something different for me. It is raw, yet written in beautifully polished prose. The tone is fitting and the vivid descriptions made me fully believe in the artistry of Kiri’s music. Hilary T. Smith also captured the intensity of emotions so candidly, there was no escape. There were so many facets for the reader to explore, ranging from Kiri’s actual experiences to her introspection:”Every disaster, every whim, every seemingly random decision came together together to make this night happen. There are no mistakes, I realize—just detours whose significance only become clear when you see the whole picture at once.”
This is a story that sucks you right in. It evoked so many thoughts in me, I’m not even sure I can come close to doing it any justice in my review. I loved it for being counter to stereotypes on so many fronts. First, Kiri admitted to having had a crush on Lukas for the longest time. When those feelings faded, Kiri saw Lukas in a new light which made her think about this meant for their friendship. Then, Kiri struck up an unlikely friendship with Doug who was wizened with age. Further, Kiri developed a romantic interest in Skunk who became her “love bison”. The intricacies of each of these relationships are so well-explored that I felt I got to know each of these characters almost personally. That is how skilled a writer I believe Smith is.
If I loved it so much, why did I not give it 5 stars? Mental illness is a tough topic to grapple with. It is also a very delicate topic that should not be taken lightly. At the same time, it is often very misunderstood. Misunderstanding was demonstrated well enough in the story through ignorance over the symptoms of hypermania, for instance. Still, if someone suffers from mental illness, they would hardly be able to evade supervision so easily. If a parent or guardian was fully aware of their child’s predisposition, they would ensure that they couldn’t sneak out at night, for example. At least that’s my take on responsible parenting. Speaking of responsible parenting, having lost a daughter already didn’t exactly seem to deter Kiri’s parents from taking off for six whole weeks. As Denny put it, Kiri was the only sister he had left. Given these issues, I couldn’t give Wild Awake 5 stars, despite my excitement over the style of writing and the characterization. But I’m a great believer in “suspension of disbelief” as well, so I most definitely would recommend this book to anyone looking for their next read.
Something else that I found myself doing when reading was listening to the musical pieces Kiri was practicing here and there. It added another dimension to the reading and upped my appreciation for the book even more. Though I desperately want to know how the Sesquipaedia by this alleged Stanley Otter Fish sounds like. Kiri had a huge preference for this piece over Prokofiev but sadly, this one piece of music doesn’t exist in real life today. At least I couldn’t find it via Google Search.