________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 36. . . .May 17, 2013


Wild Awake.

Hilary T. Smith.
New York, NY: Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins (Distributed in Canada by HarperCollins Canada), 2013.
375 pp., trade pbk., Ebook, $19.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-06-218468-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-06-218470-2 (Ebook).

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy



By the third day, I donít have eyes anymore Ė I have orbital cavities. My hair hangs limp and greasy like Iím an actress at a haunted house. My back aches like Iíve been dragging the piano across the floor, not playing it, and my mouth tastes like caffeine. When my friend Teagan calls from physics camp to tell me a convoluted but hilarious story about the second law of thermodynamics, she stops halfway through to ask if she should, like, call me an ambulance. When Lukasís mom calls to check on me, I carry the phone to the piano and play her part of the concerto.

ďIt is incredible what you do with this piano,Ē says Petra. ďI am wishing we had started Lukas when he was young.Ē

Her approval is a gold star I use to hold up all the ones whose edges have started to curl.

The metronome ticks. I lose track of days. My clothes start to smell like I just ran a marathon. Several nights pass where I donít see my bed, donít even go upstairs at all. Sergei Prokofiev starts talking to me, a constant internal chatter, critiquing my technique and making grim Russian noises whenever I miss a note. I can feel the music growing on me like a graft on a plum tree, the new leaves shooting out, becoming a part of my brain.

At one point, my parents call long-distance from Brazil to give me a detailed update on the state of the lemur population at the Sao Rodrigo Wildlife Preserve, which they visited on a recent excursion from their cruise ship. My mom gives me a full report on the distinct habits, personalities, and dietary preferences of all six members of the lemur family showcased in the little pen at the visitor center. My dadís contribution is a scathing condemnation of the Brazilian homeless person. I pace around the kitchen while they talk, and eventually set the phone on top of the fridge and wander away.

When Wednesday night rolls around, Iím ready. Iíve spent an entire week Focusing on My Art, and now not only am I a honed and dangerous pianist, I have also become Serious. Iím a finely focused laser beam. Forget burning the candle at both ends Ė Iíve dipped the candle in kerosene and torched that sucker. One hundred pages of music, all safely stored in my brain. You tell me if that isnít Serious. You just try telling me that isnít some Serious shit.Ē


Seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd has the entire summer ahead of her and enough plans to fill those weeks and more. She is rehearsing in order to enter a classical piano competition and is also spending time with her friend Lukas as they prepare for the big Battle of the Bands coming up in a few weeks. Kiriís plans quickly go off-track when she receives a phone call from a mysterious stranger, telling her that he has her sister Sukeyís stuff, if Kiri would like to come and collect it. But Sukey died in an accident five years ago. Kiri must again confront her sisterís death as well as her own reaction to it, on top of the many other stresses in her life.

      This is Hilary T. Smithís debut young adult novel, and she creates an interesting cast of characters who are themselves ďwild awakeĒ and who force readers to be the same. The book centres on Kiri, a passionate musician, for whom readers will, at times, cheer. At other times, all readers can do is shake their heads and wonder what on earth she thinks sheís doing. Kiri takes risks which truly make no sense as she tries to learn what she can about her sisterís death, and she pushes herself to extremes which exceed common sense. She is a tough character to like, yet her crazy choices somehow make sense in the strange universe which is Kiriís roller-coaster world.

      At first, one thinks that Lukas will be the romantic interest of the novel, but his character is really never developed beyond the drummer with whom Kiri plays her synth. Early in the novel, Kiri meets Skunk, and this interesting character becomes a secondary focus of the book. While able to help Kiri with many of the problems she faces, Skunk must work on his own issues as well. There are moments of love and connection between the two, and eventually both appear to have overcome, at least in part, their initial emotional struggles.

      Kiriís impulsive and erratic behaviour produces a somewhat erratic plot as well. Often events seem to be manufactured in order to move the plot along in a particular direction. Readers, like Kiri herself, may not always know just where things are headed, and the book jumps from one scene to another, much like Kiriís mind. Readers must get accustomed to the style at first, but it does seem to work effectively and portrays a realistic picture of Kiriís thoughts and reactions as she deals with the mystery and grief surrounding her sisterís death, the stress of her upcoming musical performances, and the love she is beginning to feel for Skunk.

      Kiriís parents are one facet of the novel which doesnít seem to fit. They have left their daughter while they take a summer cruise to celebrate their anniversary. They have never told Kiri that her sister was murdered, rather than dying in an accident as she has been led to believe. If your teenage daughter was brutally murdered, would you happily leave a second one at home alone? They apparently did not understand their artistic daughter, Sukey, and seem no closer to understanding Kiri and offering the understanding and support one would expect. Kiriís older brother Denny also has a role in the novel when he comes home for a couple of weeks of vacation. Rather like their parents, he doesnít seem to understand his sibling, and, though he tries to reason with her, he shows little sympathy.

      The novel takes place in Vancouver, and readers see scenes from Stanley Park, the Downtown Eastside and Granville Island. That said, any large urban centre would be a suitable setting for the book. Smith introduces some social issues as a sidebar to the novel, mentioning mental health problems and having her characters deal also with drugs, smoking, drinking and sex. However, Wild Awake is in no way didactic, but rather it simply presents the issues as they are without moralistic comment.

      Certainly Kiri is ďwildĒ throughout the novel, and one sees that she becomes more ďawakeĒ as events and other characters force her to come to grips with her music, her family, her friends, and life in general. This is a chaotic ride which will not appeal to every reader, but if you want exhilaration and excitement each time you turn a page, this oneís for you!

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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