Wild Awake – Hilary T. Smith

Wild Awake – Hilary T. SmithTitle: Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
Publishing Info: May 28, 2013 by HarperCollins
Genres: Contemporary, Psych/Mental Health, Young Adult
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: July 4, 2013

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 Wallflower, Wild Awake explores loss, love, and what it means to be alive.


WILD AWAKE. How do I review WILD AWAKE? No, seriously. How do I review this book? I had been meaning to read it since I heard so many good things, especially from Jamie, and when Hilary T. Smith was going to be at Anderson’s Bookshop in the end of June, I knew I had to go and that was the perfect time to buy the book. I had a ton of time to read on the 4th of July so I started WILD AWAKE…… And finished it that night. I honestly could not put it down. I finished the book, let out a sigh of “Wow”, and then went to go mark it at read on Goodreads like I usually do. Goodreads said, “Awesome! You finished a book! Now how do you want to rate it?” And I sat there, phone in hand, and thought. And thought. Usually when I’m reading a book, I can tell what I’m going to rate it and I generally gauge that star rating, changing it if necessary as I read. WILD AWAKE started out as a four star rating and THEN I got to the second half of the book and was mesmerized. The ending! It was just so much more than a star rating. It was interesting, terrifying, captivating, non-sensical, and quite a whirlwind. I entered my star rating on Goodreads, but even as I’m writing this review, I’m still not sure if it’s appropriate or not. I guess all I can do is talk about how I felt!


The first half of the book definitely felt slower than the second half, for obvious reasons once you read it but also because I felt like things took just a little while to get… somewhere. The story is obvious right off the bat: Kiri’s parents are gone on a cruise for 6 weeks (yes, I know to some people this amount of time was shocking and unbelievable, but you’d be surprised), her brother Denny is at college, and she gets a phone call from a stranger asking her her sister who died several years ago. Sukey was practically Kiri’s idol — She really, really looked up to her older sister and was devastated when she died so when she gets this mysterious phone call, her curiosity gets the best of her and she stumbles into secrets that she didn’t even know were there.

I honestly don’t want to rehash the plot because the feelings of this book are way more important. When Kiri starts looking for the the stranger who once knew her sister, she opens Pandora’s box, so to speak, and can’t take that back. The sadness and regret and anger she feels from pretty much rehashing her sister’s death is a very emotional time and there were a few times I teared up from Hilary Smith’s writing and how she conveyed this jumble of emotions for Kiri. Outrage, denial, fear… And along the way she meets a helpful stranger (unrelated to the stranger who knew her sister) named Skunk. The way people went on about Skunk in their reviews and/or Twitter I was like, “There is no WAY I’m going to like a character named Skunk.” But there you have it. He was a gentle giant — a quiet personality in a large body and slowly formed a perfectly un-perfect relationship with Kiri. (I love that she called him her love-bison, brontosaurus of love, and even once compared his stature to Hagrid haha.)

I don’t really know how else to talk about this book except to say that that second half! (!!!!) I actually didn’t know a TON about WILD AWAKE before I picked it up. If you know me well, you know I love going into books blind so I get surprised by all of the little things as they were intended to surprise an audience. When I saw Hilary T. Smith in person, she described her book as involving music, mystery, and an aspect of mental illness. I thought “Mental illness is in this book?” Psychology and mental functions and/or illnesses have always intrigued me so I was immediately more curious to see how that even fit in the book and even as I was reading the first part, I was still guessing how it was going to come into play. We see this mental break start to appear in Kiri’s character slowly but surely, taking us on quite the wild ride of emotions and actions. What happened to Kiri was incredible (and scary) to witness from a first person point of view. I wondered how it even came on… Was this brought on by the secrets of her sister’s death? Her parents being away and Kiri being alone? Time? Stress? An existing condition? I’m not really sure, and as much as it would be interesting to know, that’s not even quite relevant to the book except that the reader gets to witness that happen from Kiri’s perspective and she doesn’t even know that anything out of the ordinary is going on. I actually almost didn’t even want to talk about this in my review because it feels like such a spoiler since I didn’t really know it was coming, but it was such a BIG part of the book and the reason that I was so blown away by it that I didn’t know how I could hold it back.

This is a story about love. And loss. And friendship. And breaking down. And every emotion you’ve ever had balled into a tornado and whipping you around your own life until you’re terrified of when it finally spits you back out into the universe as a jumbled mess. WILD AWAKE was beautifully written. It comforted me and shocked me all at the same time and I’m still in awe of it. I’m so glad that Hilary T. Smith wrote this book to share with the world! I feel like you will either love this book or it’s something that’s just not for you and that very few people will fall in the middle. WILD AWAKE has its lovely tender moments, but many frenzied aspects as well so be prepared for a very serious side with some light-hearted moments. It was a fascinating ride, clearly, since I couldn’t even put it down for a few hours. I really hope that people love this book and feel as amazed by it as I do.


Kiri Byrd // Character Obsessions: Practicing piano, her sister Sukey, solving a mystery, more piano.
God, Kiri was so interesting. I was afraid in the beginning that she was going to be shy, vulnerable, and awkward and in a way she was… But she changed in two ways: both with her knowing it and without. To see her grow as a person and start to mature at the same time that she was breaking down was… paradoxical. I’m so glad that this book was written in Kiri’s first person POV because it was incredible to see this story from her perspective.
Skunk // Character Obsessions: Radios, bicycles, cigarettes.
Skunk was quite the interesting character. He was gentle, yet strong and his quiet attitude really intrigued me. He had his own past and his own secrets that I was dying to find out about as did Kiri. I really liked how his relationship grew with Kiri and how they began to trust each other throughout the book.
Denny Byrd // Character Obsessions: School…? None?
For some reason I kind of identified with Denny and I’m not really sure why. When he finally makes his physical appearance in the book and we see his interactions with Kiri… For some reason that totally just GOT ME. That was almost the defining moment — Obviously Kiri didn’t see it and I almost didn’t quite recognize all the signs of her mental breakdown either UNTIL Denny arrived and we got a different person’s perspective of how she acts when she’s at home or alone and that was just like “WHOA”. His presence in the book really sort of opened my eyes and made me feel scared for Kiri.


Kept Me Hooked On: Psychology. Had it not been for those pesky stats classes, I would have minored in Psych (which means nothing because I probably wouldn’t have used it in my practical life anyway) and Abnormal Psychology was one of my absolute favorite classes in college. It was so interesting to see how the brain works or changes or differs for people who suffer from mental illnesses. I’ll always find it fascinating how the brain works, or in many cases, how it fails to work according to the norm.
Left Me Wanting More: Familiarity. Kiri’s parents are gone the whole book, her sister is dead, and her brother Denny is away at school. We do get to see Denny later in the book, but only briefly. The only familiar people we see in the book is Kiri’s friend Lukas and his family and even then they seem to flit in and out of the story line… Then again, maybe that’s the point. Kiri has no rock, no one to go to when she starts to discover all these new things and maybe that ultimately assists in her mental break.

Addiction Factor

This was a pretty spectacular read and I highly recommend it! Hilary T. Smith does a great job at grabbing the reader’s attention and keeping them hooked the entire book.


     Pushing the Limits      the Book of Broken Hearts

Hi, I'm Brittany!
Hi, I'm Brittany!

I'm an avid reader, candle-maker, and audiobook lover! Here you'll find book reviews, fun blog posts, and my other loves of photography & craft beer!

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16 thoughts on “Wild Awake – Hilary T. Smith

  1. Alexa Y.

    I am seriously so intrigued by this book. I got it before the release date (thanks to the Strand), but decided to send it on to the Philippines to read it there. It sounds beautiful and messy and chaotic and passionate – and I love that. I love that it already sounds different. My expectations for this book are pretty high, but I’m excited instead of intimidated. I can’t wait to read it!

  2. Natalie

    I felt exactly the same way as you when I sat down to review Wild Awake. How could I put my thoughts and feelings about this book into words?! Well, I think you did an amazing job. You captured the emotions and feelings in the story without giving anything away, and the way you described the characters was absolutely perfect. I am also crazy jealous that you got to meet Hilary T. Smith!!! She has definitely become an auto-buy author for me after this book, and I can’t wait to see what she is coming up with next!

  3. Amanda @ Late Nights with Good Books

    I really wish that I had at least taken some psych classes in college! I was thrown off a bit by my high school class, but I had a few friends who majored in it and would tell me the most interesting things, especially about abnormal psych. It’s so interesting to see what causes people to act certain ways. Oh well. I can learn about psych stuff to some degree by reading books like this, right? Or at the very least come to appreciate the complexity of human behaviors.
    I’m a bit torn about reading this book, honestly. I can so easily see myself falling either way – either loving it for how unique and experimental it is, or just thinking that it’s too out there for me. The dilemma! The more I hear about it, though, the more interested I become. I’ll probably read it eventually, just to know where I fall! Great review, Brittany!

    1. Brittany Post author

      I think this will be that way for a lot of people.. Either love it or hate it. I think it’s pretty unique, but if you know you’re in for more of a serious ride, I think that helps! If you’re interested in Psych, I think you’ll like it! I’d love to hear what you think if you pick it up! 🙂

  4. Tara

    I had SUCH a hard time writing my review for this one as well. All I wanted to say was “!!!!! READ THIS BOOK IT IS AMAZING” but figured that wouldn’t cut it 🙂 You’re absolutely right that the first half of the book was a bit slow but the second half just took off. I cannot wait to read more of this author’s writing!!

    1. Brittany Post author

      I’m so SO curious to see what her next book will be! It’ll definitely be an instant read for me… I’m hoping something with the same kind of “feel” as Wild Awake! I loved how it wasn’t fluffy contemporary 🙂

    1. Brittany Post author

      It actually wasn’t terribly slow in the beginning but the ending was just a whirlwind! I’m interested in hearing your thoughts if you try this one! 🙂

  5. Maggie @ Just a Couple More Pages

    Really great review! I had such a difficult time summarizing/reviewing this one, I had never read anything like this. I read it a while ago, someone at a conference had recommended it to me and I got the ARC from a friend at HC, based on the recommendation I thought it would be kind of this light-hearted funny story about a girl who goes a little wild while her parents are away. So when I actually read it I had no clue what to make of it. I was so impressed with the feelings and tone Hilary T. Smith managed to write, but I was also really bothered by certain parts of the book. It’s definitely a book that makes you think and stays with you.

    1. Brittany Post author

      Thank you! I know, wasn’t it just hard to put in words? It’s definitely something that was a lot of FEELING the book, I think. You have to be in the right mindset to sort of absorb it too, in my humble opinion! 🙂

    2. Brittany Post author

      Thank you! I know, wasn’t it just hard to put in words? It’s definitely something that was a lot of FEELING the book, I think. You have to be in the right mindset to sort of absorb it too, in my humble opinion! 🙂

  6. Estelle

    I think you did a really good job of expressing your thoughts on this one; I know you were like HOW?! I was also feeling the same. I read this one pretty early (I don’t do that a lot but THAT COVER) and the same thing. It was a slower ride than I thought but I appreciated that because sometimes I just rush things because it’s so easy to read and this was not easy to read at all.

    I also teared up, loved Hilary’s writing, and damn, I can’t wait to see what she does next. Such a fantastic book and I’m glad you experienced it too!

    1. Brittany Post author

      I cannot wait to see what we get from Hilary next! I was so wrapped up in this book… It was amazing. I’m also glad we didn’t get rushed into EVERYTHING right away and we really got to know Kiri before things started spiraling out of control. PHEW. Glad I got some words out that made sense 🙂

  7. Debbi Michiko Florence

    WOW. That’s some review – and I tend not to read reviews because like you I like to go into a book blind. But I haven’t heard of this book so I read most of this post. I’m torn – do I read this? Because yes, it sounds amazing and intense! But I don’t love dealing with uncomfortable and stressful feelings while reading. Hmm…I will put this book on my list and see if I dive in! Thanks so much for sharing such an honest review!

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