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Wild Awake

Wild Awake

4.0 6
by Hilary T. Smith

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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,


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kiri Byrd’s plan for the six weeks her parents are away involves practicing for the upcoming International Young Pianists’ Showcase, practicing some more, and then practicing with Lukas, her bandmate and crush, for their Battle of the Bands gig. She isn’t worried about being home alone: she’s 17, she’s responsible, and she’s got a schedule. But when someone calls to ask if Kiri will come pick up her dead sister’s belongings, things change in unexpected ways. Kiri’s life picks up speed and gets frighteningly close to flying out of control as she bikes to the rough side of Vancouver; meets Skunk, a musician and bicycle repairer; and finds out exactly how her sister, a troubled artist, died. In her YA debut, Smith (Welcome to the Jungle) handles Kiri’s grief and joy well, then takes these emotions and amps them up. When people around Kiri—including Skunk, who has his own mental health problems—and Kiri herself begin to think that she “might be having a Thing,” it’s believable, worrying, and relatable. Ages 14–up. Agent: Laura Rennert, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (June)
VOYA - Erin Wyatt
Meticulous, disciplined Kiri Byrd outlines a grueling piano rehearsal schedule during her time home alone while her parents are on a six-week cruise. A mysterious phone call from someone claiming to have belongings from her dead sister sets Kiri on a manic path, on which, although she thinks all is well, it is clear those around her become increasingly alarmed. Discovering the artist sister she revered was not killed in a car accident but stabbed to death in her hovel of an apartment shakes Kiri to her core. Kiri dabbles with drinks and drugs and stops sleeping. Her romance with Skunk, an ex-rocker dealing with the aftermath of a psychotic episode of his own, is sudden and magical. Smith has created a compelling novel with moments of lyrical beauty. The city is gritty and beautiful with its nooks and crannies explored at all hours. The pace of the novel speeds up as Kiri becomes increasingly unhinged. While some of the choices she makes are cringe-inducing, she remains a character who elicits affection despite her troubles. Told from inside the increasingly disorderly mind of Kiri, there are enough reactions from other characters to give insight into her erratic behavior. As Kiri loses almost all that was important to her in her orderly, parent-pleasing life (as it was at the outset of the story), it seems she will work to rebuild her reality and get the help she needs. Reviewer: Erin Wyatt
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Ever since Kiri Byrd was 12, the only thing she had known about the death of her beloved, yet troubled older sister was that it was accidental. Her parents hadn't even let her go to Sukey's funeral and they certainly never wanted her to talk about her feelings. And so rather than grieve for her sister properly, Kiri threw herself into playing piano. She was the dutiful daughter, causing her parents no unnecessary stress or disharmony. But five years later, Kiri still isn't okay. When her parents leave her alone for six weeks to take an anniversary vacation, Kiri doesn't realize just how much her sister's death has affected her until she receives a mysterious phone call. She discovers that Sukey was murdered. Unsupervised and vulnerable, she quickly spirals out of control-smoking pot, practicing piano for days without sleep-as she learns exactly what happened to the sister she idolized. In this exquisite debut novel, Smith adeptly captures the darkness and betrayal of a family secret. Kiri's narrative is heart-wrenching as she confronts her grief and acts out her frustration at her parents for not only lying to her all these years, but also for abandoning her when she needs them most. The story is beautifully written and engaging, and Kiri's voice is a powerful reminder that life can be full of pain and joy and that to embrace both is good for the soul.—Kimberly Garnick Giarratano, Rockaway Township Public Library, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
A young woman spirals into mania after hearing the truth about her sister's death in this flawed but heady debut. While her parents are on a six-week anniversary cruise, 17-year-old piano prodigy Kiri is responsible for watering the azaleas and practicing daily for the upcoming International Young Pianists' Showcase. But when a stranger calls claiming to have information about her deceased sister, Kiri abandons her disciplined routines and sets out to discover the truth about Sukey, since "[w]hen she died, it was like my house burned down." After learning Sukey was murdered, not killed in an accident as she had been led to believe, Kiri eschews sleep, takes drugs, goes on midnight bike rides, wins a battle of the bands and falls in love with a formerly paranoid-schizophrenic musician. Each questionable action brings her closer to closure over Sukey's death, but will she survive the summer? Though the secondary characterizations are sometimes sketchy, and the plot has some holes (would Kiri's strict parents really leave her alone for six weeks? Is Kiri suffering from delayed grief or true mania?), Smith's exuberant use of language helps gloss over them. Similes such as "[t]he piano is like a sleek black submarine that carries me deep, deep down, until the surface world is nothing but a muffled shimmer" sing off every page. Beautiful and energetic, if jumbled; Smith's a writer to watch. (Fiction. 14 & up)
Horn Book Magazine
“Most fascinating in this stirring coming-of-age novel are the blurred lines between perception and reality, genius and madness, peace and turmoil. Debut author Smith embraces the complexities of grief, family dynamics, creativity, mental illness, and love and pens them with a thoughtful, subtle hand.”
ALA Booklist
“Debut author Smith can craft a simile like no one’s business, and her ebullient language drives this story, which captures moments of life at its highest and blurriest points: love, loss, music, freedom.”
Gayle Forman
“Hilary T. Smith’s absorbing debut whispers with mystery, drawing us into a world of dead sisters, family secrets, midnight bicycle rides, music, madness and art—ultimately exploring that most profound mystery of all: love.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)
880L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

What People are Saying About This

Gayle Forman

“Hilary T. Smith’s absorbing debut whispers with mystery, drawing us into a world of dead sisters, family secrets, midnight bicycle rides, music, madness and art—ultimately exploring that most profound mystery of all: love.”

Meet the Author

Hilary T. Smith lives in Portland, Oregon, where she studies North Indian classical music and works on native plant restoration. She is the author of Wild Awake.

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Wild Awake 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Bonnie_W More than 1 year ago
You will either love WILD AWAKE or you will not. There is very little in-between with this one. Fair warning. A lot of readers have been confused by the way events play out, while others embrace the way debut author Hilary. T. Smith is able to portray a teen mentally spiraling downwards out of control. WILD AWAKE depicts her journey in a way not often seen in novels, and the writing style may not be for everyone. The book centers around Kiri, a girl left home alone for the summer while her parents go off on a cruise for their 25th anniversary and her brother stays at college for a lab internship. She doesn't mind being alone, and often hangs out with her best friend Lukas, a guy she's secretly in love with. They're in a band together and spend a lot of time practicing for Battle of the Bands and getting stoned. Kiri is also preparing for an up-and-coming important International Young Pianists' Showcase. She plans to spend her summer doing these two things. She doesn't expect to receive a telephone call from a man telling her to come pick up her dead sister's stuff before it's too late. She begins spiraling downwards, especially upon finding out the truth behind her older sister's death that her parents kept hidden for so many years. She idolized her sister when she was little and can't comprehend the new information. With no one in the family home to guide her and offer a shoulder to fall back on, Kiri is sucked into her own head and lets go of everything she ever held important, sinking deeper and deeper into her newfound grief even as she opens herself up to new experiences. True Story : The memorable icon used for  The Intern's blog Hilary T. Smith was on my radar long before WILD AWAKE was a book. I used to follow her blog The Intern when she was still posting anonymously. I remember seeing her open up about getting a book publishing deal, revealing the truth behind her identity.  And then...I forgot about it. I was re-introduced to WILD AWAKE when Jamie from The Broke and the Bookish fell in love with the title. I was intrigued all over. It wasn't until I went onto the author's website after reading the book myself that I realized that this was The Intern's book I'd heard about back when. I laughed at myself! Smith is able to portray grief and the way it breaks a person so well. Kiri is utterly destroyed upon finding out the truth behind her sister's death, and it truly affects her well-being. Because her parents and older brother are away, there's no one to help her through this tough time for far too long. When someone is there, it's been far too long. For this reason, many readers may find themselves perplexed because the story dissolves. Everything is from Kiri's persepective, however, and we continue to see the world through her eyes...and Kiri can no longer see clearly. She no longer sleeps and relies too strongly on mind-altering substances, but can't comprehend how much she's changed. Smith is a pro at taking readers through madness in a way I haven't experienced since Libba Bray's perplexing Printz winner GOING BOVINE. It's incredibly realistic and raw, and Smith has a beautiful way of wording sentences and phrases that make you want to cling to them before they dissipate from the page. WILD AWAKE is full of pivotal moments that come from growing up: Making mistakes, finding love, discovering yourself, and learning to let go. Many teens rebel and learn life lessons the hard way; Kiri is no exception.  Her journey is messy and never easy, but if you're willing to embrace the experience, Smith's debut novel is one wild ride.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Promising young pianist Kiri receives a mysterious call about picking up her sister's things - her sister who died in a car accident five years before. This leads her into a perilous journey in which discovers her sister's death wasn't what she was told. She idolized her sister, and the revelation traumatizes her. She might've gotten through that okay if she had support, but her parents, off on a cruise, refuse to talk about it, and at the same time she has the challenge of preparing for the high-pressure International Young Pianists' Showcase, along with another performance at a Battle of the Bands. She's torn up and can't sleep, and she soon slips into manic episodes. What the author does so well is chronicle her descent from within. Just like Speak, Ordinary People, and Catcher in the Rye, all of which document the effects of grief and trauma, the novel deals with an internal struggle as the onset of her mania sends her spiraling out of control. That's what so heartbreaking - to see her struggle so hard to do good, to fulfill everyone's expectations and perform her best through endless practice, and yet the piano she's devoted so many years to, which she has seen as her fortress she can escape into, is suddenly no shelter at all. But it does give her a gift to share, in that she can play keyboards and connect with another musician. Her keyboard may be in pieces, but in that brokenness she tries to persevere. The writing throughout is very well done, and like the cyclists in the story who meet up at midnight and cruise through the city, there's buoyant heights and plummeting descents. It's not a story for everyone or a conventional teen romance, but that's what drew me to it, along with the quirky characters, the humor, and the gritty realism of her journey.
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
Seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd has the entire house to herself while her parents are on a six-week cruise. Kiri expects to have a tame but Serious summer spent Focusing on Her Art. She has a rigorous practice schedule for her piano repertoire for the Student Showcase. She has important things to discuss with her bandmate Lukas as they prepare for Battle of the Bands (like all of the reasons they can be Serious about the music AND date!). Kiri's quiet and Serious summer is completely derailed with one phone call. Kiri expects retrieving her sister Sukey's things will be simple. How can it be anything else? But nothing involving her older sister is simple. As Kiri retrieves her possessions and learns more about Sukey and her past, Kiri's carefully constructed world starts to fall apart in ways that are as devastating as they are beautiful in Wild Awake (2013) by Hilary T. Smith. Wild Awake is Smith's first novel. She was also previously the anonymous publishing blogger INTERN. You can find out more about Hilary T. Smith and INTERN's advice on her website. Wild Awake is simultaneously effervescent and heart-wrenching as Kiri struggles to make sense of her lingering grief and her own life in relation to it and her family. Filled with twists and turns, Smith weaves an exciting and surprising story about a girl trying to find her way without even realizing she was lost. While the story is lovely and ultimately quite satisfying, there is a lot of drinking and casual drug use as Kiri works through her conflicted feelings about Sukey and her life. This is apparent from the first page and it makes sense in the story even if it might not make sense for some readers. Because of that and the fact that Kiri reads (in some ways) as older than seventeen, this is definitely a book that skews older with potential for adult crossover (rather than younger with middle grade crossover potential). Smith's writing is luminous; Kiri is a heroine who burns brightly with wit and surprising insights. At the same time, the book is erratic and frightening as it shines a light on the dark places in Kiri's own psyche and her family's troubled history. Much like Kiri herself Wild Awake ricochets between moments of beauty and ugliness to create a book filled with excellent prose and memorable characters. Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach, The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
AliceF More than 1 year ago
I put myself on the list at my local library and received a virgin, never read book. Whoo hoo. This book did not disappoint. I was enthralled with the story. I won't go into what its about, you can read other's reviews. The writing was excellent, and the story line of struggling with such grief and abandonment was very true to form. 
AlwaysYAatHeart1 More than 1 year ago
 While home alone when her parents are on vacation Kiri receives a call about her sister's "stuff," and is told she needs to come get it.  Weird, really weird, considering her sister has been dead for 5  years.  Kiri is a piano player with a supposedly really great future ahead of her, but she spends a lot of her time doing drugs (weed) and acting just downright crazy, going from a seemingly normal person to giving the term "cray cray" a whole new meaning.   During all of this she meets Skunk, who has his own mental issues, finds out the truth behind her sister's death, deals with grief, secrets, and family issues, and finds love and acceptance where she least expected it.    Wild Awake is something that is not going to appeal to everyone, but is more of an acquired taste.   I have to say it is really different from anything that I have read, and while I didn't love it, I didn't hate it either.  It just wasn't my cup of tea and I had a really hard time connecting with Kiri.  I have seen mixed reviews, the majority of people either don't like it or they really liked it.  My advice if you decide to read this, is to go into with an open mind and see where it takes you.  You may love, you may not.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the language, the way relationships are depicted, and the sharply drawn characters. The main character's mania struck me as completely in line with What It's Like without sensationalizing it. The author treats her characters with compassion and sensitivity while they self-destruct. I especially loved the moment when Kiri sees her former crush clearly even in the middle of her mania.