by Hilary T. Smith
Original Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Length: 357 pages
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Format Read In: Hardback
View from the Traffic Light:
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.
I knew going into Wild Awake that it might not be a “me” book, but so many people loved it that I decided I need to give it a chance. Lesson learned: I need to go with my gut as far as books are concerned, because I really did not enjoy Wild Awake at all, and in fact found several facets of the book highly problematic.
The one positive thing I can say about Wild Awake is that, at a technical level, the writing is well-written. That being said, the fact that the writing was technically good in Wild Awake did not keep me from rolling my eyes at some of the language and metaphors used in this book. . . and I was one of the people who ENJOYED Shatter Me with IT’S strange metaphors. For example, Kiri, the main character, calls her love interest her “love bison.” LOVE. BISON. It was ridiculous and made me want to take a black sharpie over that phrase every time. The phrase “Brontosaurus of love” also came up once.
I’m still searching for the plot of Wild Awake. I’m not sure what it was supposed to be. Kiri founding out the truth about how her sister died? That pretty much all happens within the first 100 pages. Some sort of trippy self-discovery? Eh, I guess you could make a case but I never saw it. Kiri spiraling out of control and having several mental health crisis? Yeah, that happens, in a very uncomfortable way, but it never feels like a plot, really. This book could just be called “Kiri: Wandering Aimlessly”. It’s a convenient book, and even Kiri herself points out how much of Wild Awake has “If you give a mouse a cookie” syndrome:
I can’t stop marveling over the coincidences, the way every little thing slid into place. If I hadn’t gone for that bike ride on Thursday night, I wouldn’t have run into Skunk at midnight mass. If I hadn’t run into Skunk, I wouldn’t have made us late for Battle of the Bands. If we hadn’t been late, we wouldn’t have played like we did, raw and driven and wild. If I hadn’t banged my synth against the wall, it wouldn’t have exploded so spectacularly. If my synth hadn’t exploded, the crowd wouldn’t have gone wild, and we wouldn’t have been chosen to move onto the next round.”
Kiri’s mental health problems take up a good chunk of the book, and they made me incredibly uncomfortable. I’ve read some great books about teenagers struggling with mental health issues. This was not one of them. Kiri’s hyper maniac episodes seemed pretty spot-on, from what I know, but the entire portrayal felt. . . uncomfortable in a sort of gratuitous way. It may have been portrayed well as far as Kiri’s mental state, but I thought Wild Awake didn’t handle Kiri very well.
I was especially annoyed at the way the mental health of Kiri’s love interest, “Skunk” (yeah, I know). Skunk has paranoia, and again, I don’t know how many times I can say the word “uncomfortable”, but the portrayal was severely uncomfortable, and not in “I’m suppose to be uncomfortable and feel akward” way. I want realistic depictions of mental health issues in YA, but I hated the almost voyeuristic aspect I felt in Wild Awake. Seeing Kiri spiral out of control could have been a great conversation starter, but instead it just made me want to fling this book as far away from me as possible.
Despite all these, the mental health aspect was not actually the biggest issue I had with Wild Awake. It was the extreme disappearing parent syndrome that made me want to scream. Now, I knew Kiri’s parents would be away for a while based on the summary, but I was thinking, okay, her parents have gone out of town and this entire book will span a three day weekend. Maybe a week. Maybe.
Nope. Kiri’s parents have left their teenage daughter who can’t even drive for six weeks while they go on a cruise. How convenient. Kiri can do all this because she has no supervision, none, for six weeks. I’ve been pretty lenient on disappearing parent syndrome in the past because you know what? Some parents ARE workaholics who ignore their own kids most of the time. Some parents DO have health issues that might take them away from their sixteen-year-old for a week. When I was a teenager, for awhile I had “disappearing parent syndrome” in my own life. Not by choice, but because health issues led my mom led to a hospitalization out of town and there would be weeks when the neighbors were asked to check in on me. But my parents would have never done that if they didn’t have to.But a six week cruise? Color me skeptical.
And that’s only the tip of how awful Kiri’s parents are. They leave her for six weeks, alone, with a list of responsibilities. When they call to check in, they never notice the warning signs of Kiri’s mental state. At one point Kiri’s older brother calls her parents, tells them that Kiri is having a hyper maniac episode, and then Kiri gets on the phone and explains it all away. And they believe her. I’m sorry, I have trouble believing her parents would be *that* stupid. It felt like a sloppy excuse to make sure Kiri’s mental state could go from bad to rock-bottom all the easier.
While I was cautious about picking up Wild Awake in the first place, I was foolishly optimistic. However, I really disliked Wild Awake and found the disappearing parent syndrome, weird metaphors (if I see the word “love bison” ever again, I might tear my own hair out), and mental health portrayal truly enraging. 1/5 cupcakes.