Wild Awake: review

May 22, 2013 2013, 3.5 star books, contemporary 48 ★★★½

Wild Awake: reviewWild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
Published by Harper Collins on May 28, 2013
Genres: contemporary
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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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 Suki’s stuff—her sister Suki, who died five years ago. This call throws Kiri into a spiral of chaos that opens old wounds and new mysteries.

Like If I Stay and The Perks of Being a WallflowerWild Awake explores loss, love, and what it means to be alive.
Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith does what should be impossible: be at once completely batshit crazy and unbelievable, while also painting a pretty accurate portrait of the modern teenager.

Kiri Byrd’s parents left her by herself for six weeks while they went on a cruise around the world, but she has a plan: she will water the plants, and check the mail. She will practice piano religiously and be perfect at her Showcase performance. She and her best friend Lucas will practice every day and win Battle of the Bands and then he will realize he’s in love with her.

Of course, things don’t exactly go to plan, since that would be a pretty boring book. Kiri gets a call from a random stranger, saying he has her sister’s things and if she doesn’t come pick them up, he’ll throw them away. Her sister. The only one who ever truly understood her. Her sister who’s been dead for five years. Kiri knows it’s a bad idea, but she can’t stop obsessing about what things the strange guy might have.

What she finds sends her spiraling into a reckless kind of mania that is as destructive as it is freeing. While she begins to uncover the secrets her family has kept from her, and grieve for her sister anew, she  discovers herself in the process.

Her seriously insane, but ultimately really cool self.

Wild Awake was an absolutely hypnotizing read. From an objective point of view, few things about it are at all realistic, and Kiri is kind of an idiot who makes spectacularly poor decisions, but somehow it all made for a fascinating read.

I found Hilary T. Smith’s treatment of mental illness, and her depiction of the descent into mania very realistic, but I do wish she’d glorified it a bit less, or given more weight to the talk of treatment in the book’s conclusion. As is, it paints Kiri’s behavior as a summer lark, or a period of self discovery rather than serious issues that need to be dealt with.

But all in all, Wild Awake‘s descent into madness was a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.

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48 Responses to “Wild Awake: review”

  1. Alexa Y.

    The reason I’m so interested in this book is because it sounds very, very unique. It certainly sounds like it’s one heck of a crazy reading ride – but I love that. I’m curious to see how I’d respond to Kiri and her story.

  2. Charlie Diaz

    I agree about it being “batshit crazy” and “hypnotic”. There was this feeling while I was reading it like I was in a hazy and crazy wild dream. This book left me a bit speechless. I’m not even sure what I feel about it until now and I can’t explain why I liked it but I did.

    Awesome review, Tonya!

    Charlie @ Letter Trails

  3. Shannelle Chua

    Wow. A book about a girl going into madness? WOW.

    And after reading the blurb, it’s been added to my TBR pile. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

  4. A Canadian Girl

    I know you liked this one, Tonya, but I’ll probably pass since I’m not a fan of characters that make dumb decisions. I do like the mental illness angle but get the feeling it won’t be addressed as well as I’d like it to be.

  5. Lyn Kaye

    Mental illness!? I love it!
    I think people glorify mental illness to make it seem a little more…. likable? But I agree with you – keep it realistic.

  6. Reem Ibrahim

    Man I’ve heard some really confusing things about this book. People seem to either love it or hate, so I’m a bit hesitant.

  7. AndThenTheyDied

    I think the recent slew of books dealing with mental illness are encouraging in that some awareness is generated, but your comment on how it’s depicted is a bit worrying. It still sounds like a fascinating read, and I’ll hopefully be able to check it out soon! :)

  8. Vivien

    This definitely sounds like a polarizing read. And I don’t think everyone is going to love it. But for me, if it’s done right, I could see myself just loving this book. A topic that isn’t covered in YA too often, I’m curious to see how it turns out.

    • tonya

      Very polarizing, I agree. It’s a new perspective on mental illness, I think. And it was weird, and exciting to read. I hope you like it. :)

  9. erin

    I’ve been reading very conflicted reviews about this book… I think the consensus is that you either love it or hate it… Thanks for the review!

    • tonya

      I can see how some would totally dislike this, but I was so intrigued I didn’t stop to examine whether I liked it or not, I just knew I wanted to know what happened next.

  10. Lauren @ Love is not a triangle

    I agree, that the strongest part of this book was the portrayal of mental illness. But I liked that because we are completely in Kiri’s head, it is more about experiencing the craziness of her mind than the needed treatment. HOWEVER, I was very glad to see the return of her parents at the end, and the hint of help to come. It’s clear that Kiri has started to realize that she can’t go on like this. I also really appreciated the inclusion of Skunk’s aunt. Though she seems mean at first (at least to Kiri), it’s clear that she is an important point of accountability for him. I just like that this story shows that people with mental illness live vibrant lives, and you can celebrate that about them. But it also shows the scary, self-medication side, and that’s where danger comes.

    This book is interesting, because it seems to be promoted as a story about one girls wild summer of self-discovery, when it really deals with some heavy issues.

    • tonya

      I totally agree with everything you said. I loved being inside Kiri’s head, and the perspective of mental illness in her POV. And while I was relieved when her parents came home, they were so removed and distant that I wasn’t convinced she’d actually get the support / treatment she needed.

  11. Christina Fiorelli

    Christina K. in the rafflecopter

    Totally true about it being an accurate portrayal of mental illness, but really the synopsis makes it sound more like a thriller or something.

    Lovely review:)

    • tonya

      Yes! I went in expecting something completely different, but wasn’t too disappointed to be wrong.

  12. Beth Morey

    This sounds really exciting and interesting! I have an interest in mental illness and its representations, so I’m going to put this on my to-read list.

  13. Melanie

    I’ve seen stared reviews all over the place for this one- most have been DNF’s which suck do I’ve been hesitant on whether or not I should read this. But it sounds okay!

    Great review Tonya! <33

    • tonya

      I can see why some wouldn’t care for this, and in truth I don’t know exactly how I feel about it–but the fact that I couldn’t stop reading must count for something! :)

  14. Kim (YA Asylum)

    This sounds like a really interesting book. I love a story with a batshit crazy element and really respect when authors write mentally ill accurately. Though, it’s a bit concerning when mental illness is somehow glorified? Hm. But it sounds like it’s still worth reading. Great review :)

    • tonya

      Definitely worth the read, I think. It’s a fun book, and one of the more interesting contemporaries I’ve read in awhile. But still. I wish some elements had been handled better.

  15. Wendy Darling

    You know, I’ve had a copy of this for awhile and I’m still not sure whether this is the book for me, hah. I like “batshit crazy,” though, and “hypnotizing” is alluring, too! I suppose I will just have to crack it open to see what on earth you’re talking about. ;)

    The “glorifying mental illness” part is an interesting observation, though. I have an inkling of what you might mean, and I’m curious to see how this is handled.

    • tonya

      I’m still not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. I think the majority of my stars are due to the fact I couldn’t stop reading, but from an objective perspective I should have been annoyed with the majority of the story.

      But in the end, I suppose it’s my experience in the moment that counts more than my perspective in hindsight.

  16. Danielle

    I’ve wanted to read this ever since Amazon Vine reviews came out, from parents, tut-tutting the book for depicting drug and alcohol consumption but not in a negative enough way.

    I’ll give it a go.
    Great review ;)

    • tonya

      Hahaha, oh man. I can only imagine. Those issues didn’t bug me at all–except when she put herself in danger because of it. But I thought it was a realistic portrayal of a teenager.

  17. Keertana

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this one, Tonya! I was a huge fan of it and was so impressed by Kiri’s growth and the important incorporation of Skunk as well. I really cannot WAIT for more by this author! Lovely review, dear! :)

    • tonya

      Loved Skunk! And Kiri’s journey was so interesting. I think Miss Smith is going to be a favorite of mine, even if I’m not exactly sure how I felt about this one as a whole.

  18. Sunny Duvall

    I’ve heard some mixed reviews on this, but your review really makes me want to read it! It sounds very intriguing and suck-worthy of my time :) I can’t wait! Love your review!

    • tonya

      I can totally see where mixed reviews would come from, and mine is a little middling to tell the truth. I was just so intrigued, the stuff that would usually bug me didn’t seem to matter much.

    • tonya

      crazy/beautiful is a great description. it was definitely a fun ride, even if it was a little weird.

  19. readingdate

    Thanks for reminding me about this one! Everything I’ve read about it makes me very intrigued. You had me from the first paragraph.

  20. Kate @ Ex Libris

    This book is in my “read soon” queue and I am intrigued by everything I’m reading about it. I think confronting mental illness is becoming the thing to write about at the moment, which is good, but that’s too bad that the other side of that, meaning the treatment, isn’t addressed as much.

    Kate @ Ex Libris

    • tonya

      I think you’re right, mental illness seems to be the theme of the moment in contemporary. i really liked how this author portrayed it, it seemed less contrived / plot device-y than some others I’ve read, but yeah. I wished for a better conclusion.

  21. starryeyedjen

    I’ve been oscillating back and forth on whether to read this one yet. I have a review copy, but I’ve seen some very mixed reviews. Yours is kind of in the middle, which gives me hope. :) It definitely sounds like an interesting read, to say the least. Thanks for the honest review…I think I’ll put it back on my pile to kick off my summer reading.

    • tonya

      Definitely an interesting read! I know my review is a little weak, but I honestly can’t really tell how I feel about it. From an objective standpoint I should have hated it, yet it kept me intrigued all the way through. I think it’s the perfect summer afternoon read. :)

  22. Jessica R

    Hmm. I’m really not sure what to think of this one. From your description, it doesn’t seem like the right book for me, though. Characters who are like how you described Kiri to be (ex. an idiot making poor decisions) tend to drive me nuts and it’s hard to get through a book when I despise the mc. Good to know, so thanks!

    • tonya

      They usually drive me absolutely bonkers too, but for whatever reason I was caught up in Kiri’s mindset, and while I knew what she was doing was moronic, I was able to go along for the ride.

  23. Jenni @ Alluring Reads

    I think I could like this one. I have seen some very negative reviews for it so I had started to write it off my TBR but I think I am going to keep it there. I like how you described it and how it looks at mental illness. Too bad there wasn’t better treatment of the topic at hand in the end but happy to see that you enjoyed it overall!

    • tonya

      I’m glad I convinced you to give it a chance! As you can probably tell from my review, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. But the fact it kept me reading nonstop is a point in its favor. Hope you enjoy!