Wild Awake is a tale of loss and recovery. Kiri is 17 and is spending the summer alone. She rides her bike around her city, and she plays in a band. She is cool and ironic, although she describes herself as plain and pudgy. Her parents are away, but she has to practice hard at the piano for an important concert. So she is under pressure, she is alone, and she starts to find out more about how her older sister died five years before. It is a subject that her family has carefully avoided even since it happened, and Kiri still feels bereft. This is a summer of big changes for her as she meets new people and comes to terms with the terrible loss she experienced. This Young Adult novel addresses adult themes: drug use, homelessness, sex, death and murder. It is a longish work, at 384 pages, but it keeps up the pace and stays interesting. The performance of the unabridged audiobook by Shannon McManus is convincingly youthful sounding, and has plenty of energy. The characters are kept separate and are well characterized in the performance. It turns out that one of the main characters has a serious mental illness, and has been hospitalized previously. Furthermore, Kiri also goes into a hypo-manic episode that does not end well. So this is a teen novel with a significant portrayal of mental illness. Hilary Smith portrays these characters with sympathy, showing both how they think they are behaving in perfectly reasonable ways, while those around them become increasingly alarmed. We see how they are far more than mental patients, with hints of how their different ways of seeing the world may contribute to their individuality. Wild Awake could have probably done with more editing, and final chapters drag a bit, but it is a distinctive novel that should appeal to some young adults are tuned into the hipster world of indie music, bicycling, and modern art.
© 2014 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York