Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith Review

Posted September 9, 2013 by Asheley in Uncategorized / 9 Comments

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Publish Date: May 28, 2013
375 Pages
Source: Edelweiss
Find it here:  Goodreads / Amazon / B&N

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.

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

My Thoughts:  I’ve struggled with my thoughts on this book exactly. I mean, I know how I feel about it and I know that I liked it and I know that I waited a long time to read it but MAN I’M SO GLAD THAT I DID. 

Wild Awake came to me at exactly the time that I needed it. 

Before I go any further, here are a couple of other reviews of this book since I’m having a hard time articulating how I feel about it: Ivy Book Bindings and Rather Be Reading articulated some of my own thoughts very well and I have to agree with what they say. You can find a bazillion other great reviews here on the book’s Goodreads page

I’ve seen so many really great reviews of this book – people are saying these wonderful things about this author’s writing style: some are saying it is beautiful prose and some are saying it is wonderfully disjointed. I love a book that has lovely words and beautiful phrasing and I do think this one was nice. The writing style was really interesting and lovely and captivating. If I am being honest, though, the writing didn’t stand out to me quite as much as the characters did. This is not a knock on the writing, but a shout-out to the characterization. These characters – Kiri and Skunk in particular – are so wonderfully created they are like blinking neon signs. (Also, secondary character Denny, who is Kiri’s brother – great character.)

The thing is this: I feel like Kiri is kind of like a study in both grief and mental illness. She’s broken apart after finding out some previously unknown information about her older sister’s death and she’s upset that her family chose to keep this information from her. Kiri is upset that after she went on a little fact-finding mission about her sister’s life; it appears that sister Sukey didn’t live exactly the way she always envisioned. Kiri is more than broken up about this information – she basically comes undone. (This is amid some intense romantic rejection, some isolation, and some pressure for piano-playing perfection.) I think, personally, Kiri was already on the way to spiraling downward and it took this one more thing – this one more issue of re-living Sukey’s life and tragic death – to quicken that downward spiral. 

There’s another thing: Kiri is an absolutely fascinating individual. She’s bright and intelligent and completely artistic. She is able to see the beauty and the art in everything; she’s just one of those people. And it almost seems like the further she spirals downward, the “crazier” she becomes, the more unhinged she is – the more creative she becomes as well. Her music becomes better. Her art seems to be enhanced by her deteriorating mental state. 

Kiri’s friend Skunk is also a bit of a study – he is a person that initially seems solid. I wondered, to begin with, whether it was safe or not for Kiri to befriend this guy – she didn’t even really know him when she met him and almost immediately began to trust him (some of her actions had me screaming NO!! to her just for safety reasons, which is very indicative of the type of character Kiri is and solidified my predictions on her mental state). It soon became apparent that Skunk really cared for her and actually seemed to understand her, how she thought and how she dealt with things and processed things. They were quite a pair and I liked them together, as friends or whatever. It was comforting and also interesting to find out why Skunk had such a great understanding of Kiri, and it made him an even more likable character to me. Skunk was written in a flawed and realistic way, just like Kiri, was but he was very much the opposite of Kiri. They balanced each other out very well. 

I chose to wait to read read Wild Awake because of personal reasons and then I chose to pick it up when I did because of personal reasons, so I think perhaps this book sits with me a little differently than other readers. Maybe? I’d like to think so. I wanted to understand people with issues like Kiri and her friend Skunk more and better. I wanted to understand how to deal with the ups and downs of people that have issues like Kiri – both the manic episodes and the depressive downs, the extremely creative times as well as the times of extreme emotion. I think that for me, this book was much more about the characterization and a little less about the evocative prose – although it is certainly there – and I couldn’t help but hold my breath for so much of the book. 

Also noteworthy: While Kiri was the focus of the book, there were people there trying to look out for her. Despite the fact that her parents weren’t in the picture all that much, Kiri had friends that obviously loved her and wanted what was best for her. They were able to see in Kiri what Kiri couldn’t see in herself, and that was key, I think. From the standpoint of the reader, Kiri’s behavior and emotions and her shift from being in-control to being out-of-control was so big that it seemed bigger than the care and concern that the secondary characters had for her: her friend Lukas and his mom, her brother Denny, her parents. But that’s not the case at all. Kiri was pretty much unable to see past her own self except where her own focus was: Sukey’s death, making music, and Skunk. Ultimately, it took someone that was willing to be a voice of reason speaking louder than Kiri’s madness to make a positive enough impression on Kiri to open her eyes to her own issues. 

I think that this book is written so well because it validates my in-real-life experience with these types of issues. Kiri as a character is so well-written and so vivid that she could be a real person as far as I am concerned. That doesn’t make her extremely likable. That doesn’t make her someone that I’d like to spend my time around or look up to. It just makes her very real to me, and I think that’s one of the reasons that I connected with this story in such a deep way. And this – my connection with Kiri and her ups-and-downs – is probably why I’m having such a hard time putting into words why I loved this book so much. 

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith is a fantastic book, I think, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people that love YA Contemporary with Issues, great turns of phrase, great characterization, and people that love books with art and music on the inside. I am sorry that my thoughts aren’t more orderly on this one, but I think they are perfectly in line with the book, ironically, and I am so thankful that I read this one when I did. It certainly spoke to me. 


Wild Awake will appeal to fans of:

YA Contemporary with Issues, Romance & Mystery
Romance: No Triangle. 
Great Characterization
Issues: Death of Family Member, Mental Illness
Music and Art

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
is currently available for purchase.


Have you read this book yet? 

What are your thoughts? 
I certainly had a hard time putting mine into words, 
although you can rest assured that I really liked this book. 



About Asheley

Asheley is a Southern girl. She loves Carolina blue skies, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and NC craft beer. She loves all things history but prefers books over everything.

You can find her somewhere in North Carolina, daydreaming about the ocean.

Find Asheley on Litsy @intothehallofbooks!


9 responses to “Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith Review

  1. I'm so glad you liked this one! I loved it and felt Kiri's experience made for a very important read. I was nervous b/c a lot of super-early reviews were negative, mostly I think because they didn't understand what was happening. Reviews like yours will help readers see what it's really about!

    • I DID like this one. I thought it was kind of hard to read at certain points and I thought that Kiri was a bit of a hot mess but that was because I felt like I was watching her spiral downward right away. It's interesting that so many people hyped this one as one with interesting prose when really, I felt it focused more on the characters and their wellbeing, although it did have some great writing that isn't to be ignored. I just feel like this one left me with an impression that is likely to stick with me for a long time.

  2. First of all, thanks for linking my review, Asheley! As you know, I really loved this one. It was so different from everything else out there, and most importantly, so REAL. I honestly felt as if this debut author captured so much in her portrayal of these characters and I'm glad you were able to connect with this on a more personal level as well. Fabulous review, dear!

    • You're welcome, Keertana! I forgot to mention to you and Estelle that I linked you guys – I need to do that today. EEK.

      It is a bit different from everything else out that that I've read lately and I'm glad for it. I like the way Hilary T. Smith approached Kiri and her issues and what was going on inside of her head, and I like how she threw Skunk into the mix to offset her. This is one of the better debuts I've read this year and I'm so glad that I was able to pick up more on the characterization than on the prose, although I will admit that it is lovely and I am excited for whatever this author puts out there for us next. Definitely a personal book for me, but a great one, and I'm so glad that I took the time to read it.

  3. I have read and also struggled to review this book-my thoughts were super disjointed as I had so many feelings. Generally I really liked reading it but I had trouble with several sections especially as we neared the end.

    • I started to write this blog post and erased it probably four or five times before I finally settled on this, and interestingly I ended up basically telling everyone that I didn't really know what to say! I have so many feelings about it that I just couldn't articulate, but they're good ones, and still I struggled. I think for me it is because this struck a personal chord, but I do believe that this is a great debut this year – so different than others out there – and I'm glad I was finally able to get something down and published so people can see that I enjoyed it and it will stick with me for a long time!

  4. I love that I can see how much this book affected you by how much you struggled to review it. I definitely went the opposite direction, where I went way overboard in what I said. I also agree that it is these characters that stood out to me the loudest. I didn't think the book was actually that chaotic or hard to understand. I felt like Kiri was written so very well and truthfully. She is also a great example of how many famous writers and artists are bi-polar. Most of the people I know who have this disease ARE incredible intelligent and creative. I mean, think of everything you could do if you didn't have to sleep! HAHA. I also know you can go a little crazy as Kiri does.

    I like that you said this book is about grief and mental illness. Kiri doesn't go crazy because she misses her sister. That might have something to do with what happens, but she is clearly dealing with a chemical imbalance of some sort.

    I loved Skunk SO MUCH. And I was completely surprised by that because he doesn't look like the typical love interest, and he also has his own pretty large problems. But you're right. They balanced each other out really really well. I think they could understand the other better because of their own struggles. There was no judging between them, which I think they both needed.

    I also like that you pointed out the importance of support. It seems subtle in here, but I think the author is making the point that we all need accountability, though often we don't see it for ourselves. As much as Skunk's aunt seems mean at first, we realize how she is helping Skunk to remain stable. As someone who knows many people who have and do struggle with bi-polar I know how tough and important the outside force can be. I was very thankful when Kiri's parents came back at the end and took some notice of what was going on.

    I'm so happy that you ended up reading this book, Ash!

  5. "Wild Awake came to me at exactly the time that I needed it."

    Gosh, I love books like this. Magic in the making. I feel so understood by a magical unseen force when I read books that affect me like this. Absolutely love it. I was on the fence wanting to read this but I know we have similar tastes so now I know I have to pick this one up. And I'm excited. I'm so glad you loved it like you did and it found you at the right time 🙂

  6. I LOVE THIS REVIEW. I know that the subjects in this book hold special meaning for you and I think it is wonderful that you were able to read it at a time in your life that worked best for you!

    I was sort of a ball of emotions reading Wild Awake–probably because of how intense Kiri can be at times. When her mania was at it's peak I felt like I had been running sprints back and forth while jacked up on Rock Star and speed. seriously. This book exhausted me at times!

    And like you I really feared for Kiri's safety while reading this book. It also made me think back to moments in my own life when I did some reckless, crazy things–you know those moments you look back on with your friends later and think "What was I thinking? I am SO lucky to have made it through that!" It made me a little uncomfortable but also made me nostalgic because I could relate.

    And I think that the romance in this story is just BEAUTIFUL. I was fan of Skunk's from the start–and I was so pleasantly surprised at the end when certain "revelations" about his past came to light. I loved the kismet of the whole thing:)

    I'm so glad you read this Ash, and I loved reading your review. It brought back all the feelings I had after reading this book too:)

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