Book Review: In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner
Publisher’s Book Description: From the award-winning author of The Serpent King comes a beautiful examination of grief, found family, and young love.
Life in a small Appalachian town is not easy. Cash lost his mother to an opioid addiction and his Papaw is dying slowly from emphysema. Dodging drug dealers and watching out for his best friend, Delaney, is second nature. He’s been spending his summer mowing lawns while she works at Dairy Queen.
But when Delaney manages to secure both of them full rides to an elite prep school in Connecticut, Cash will have to grapple with his need to protect and love Delaney, and his love for the grandparents who saved him and the town he would have to leave behind.
This is a soul crushing book that makes your heart soar while ripping it out at the same time; it is profoundly moving and well written in the way that makes you want to frame quotes on your bedroom wall to carry you through life’s dark days.
Cash is a high school teenage boy who lives in abject poverty in the Appalachia region with his grandparents who are raising him since his mom died from an overdose. He is best friends with Delaney, who just happens to be a scientific genius. Because of an amazing discovery that she makes, the two are offered a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school (she is the type of friend who negotiates her deal to help a friend instead of leaving him behind). In the Wild Light is a peek behind the curtain in the life of a group of teenagers, but mostly a boy named Chase, who are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.
At school, Chase discovers poetry as a language to help him talk about his feelings, he finds his people, and in the process, he starts to find himself. It’s a moving character study that dismantles toxic masculinity, explores the heart of family and friendship, and introduces us to characters who have every obstacle put before them and you can’t help but root for them.
This is a stunning, achingly moving book. I loved everyone (except for the roommate, who you are not supposed to love). If you like moving and triumphant character studies, this is the book for you: full of grief, hope, joy, anger and triumph.
Some of the issues tackled in the book include addiction, grief, sexual violence, bullying, and toxic masculinity.
Some additional books on the opioid crisis and addiction include:
Book covers pictured include Heroine by Mindy McGinnis, The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman and You’d Be Home by Now by Kathleen Glasgow (comes out September 28th)
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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