A conversation about Hilary T Smith’s novel Wild Awake

Three of our staff - Nina Kenwood, Emily Gale and Bronte Coates - come together and talk about Hilary T Smith’s debut novel Wild Awake - why they loved it and whether or not it should be classified as ‘young adult fiction’.

NK: I loved Wild Awake, but I finished it thinking that perhaps it’s the kind of YA novel that adults might enjoy more than teenagers.

EG: It’s definitely one that the adult YA fans will enjoy but I think I’d have loved it at 15. I spent most of my time at that age reading about adults who were losing their minds or screwing up their lives, because YA wasn’t a section in the bookshop. I know I’d have loved to watch Kiri, the 17-year old main character, turn herself inside-out the way she does and then claw her way back to a safe place.

BC: I did wonder how differently I may have responded to the events as a teenager. For example, I was very interested in the way Kiri’s relationship with her brother developed,whereas a few years ago I think I would have read straight over this. But there were elements in the story that felt decidedly ‘young adult’ to me, particularly the battle-of-the-bands storyline. I thought Hilary did an amazing job of portraying mental illness in a manner that was sophisticated yet accessible.

NK: Yes, you’re right. Kiri’s narrative voice, and various plot elements, are very young adult. I think it’s more that teenage me probably wouldn’t have appreciated how well done Kiri’s breakdown was handled by the author. But on reflection, the novel does remind me a little of some of John Marsden’s early work (Dear Miffy, for example) and also of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

EG: Yes! The Bell Jar, that’s a great comparison. I remember reading that in my early 20s and thinking: where has this book been all my life? I think Wild Awake might be that book for a few people, too. It wasn’t what I expected at all. The blurb made me think it would be an intense 24-hour adventure with a dose of romance and mystery – perhaps a bit like the wonderful Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley. I think if people go into it thinking it’s going to be a bit like a Sarah Dessen romance, they’re in for a much more bold and brave journey.

BC: The Bell Jar is so wonderful but I think the experience reading as a teen in comparison to re-reading it as an adult, I really missed how it was in places. I also agree that the blurb for Wild Awake is way off – that it sets up expectations it does not deliver on - but what it does create is something even more exciting. The adventure Kiri does take feels more memorable than what I’d originally anticipated. Now I wonder if it will reach the right audience.

Wild Awake is out now.