This might be one of my reviews where I yell about how much I love this book, and I’m okay with that.
Title: In the Wild Light
Author: Jeff Zentner
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publication Date: August 10th, 2021
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.
God, I loved this book so much. Jeff Zentner knows how to write unique coming-of-age tales starring fascinating characters—some of my favorite male protagonists in YA. I haven’t cried that hard for a book since the beginning of the year.
This book is the definition of coming-of-age for our protagonist, Cash. He has gone through so much trauma in his short life and when your best friend is the smartest person you know, imposter syndrome and self doubt comes with it. After meeting at a support group for kids with addict parents, Cash and Delaney bond on a very intense level. Their connection goes beyond the traditional best friendship—it’s absolutely beautiful. The only reason Cash gets to go away to this exceptional school on a free ride is because Delaney would only accept her own scholarship if Cash got to join her. He feels an immense amount of pressure to not only do well for her, but also for his grandparents that he left behind back home. That self doubt really comes into play when he starts to discover the world of poetry.
The relationship Cash has with his grandparents is absolutely beautiful. For the most part, they raised him—their home is the only place he has ever felt safe. The special connection he has with his grandfather displays an immense amount of vulnerability that is rare to see, not only from a teenage boy, but also from an older man. When you think about people from a small town—an Appalachian small town—you imagine a kind of stoicism or coldness when it comes to emotions and feelings. That is not the case with Cash and his Papaw. It’s nice to see a father/son-type relationship with that much of affection.
I could honestly read hundreds of books about Cash and Delaney. This book is absolutely spectacular, and definitely one of my favorites of the year.
ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.