In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner #bookreview #YA #comingofage #contemporary

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.

If you sneaked a peek at my reading genre pie chart, you’d find contemporary is a small slice. But when it’s this writer? I read The Serpent King by this author for book club a few years ago and found it to be mesmerizing, profound, and bittersweet. This book is no different.

In the Wild Light is set in a small eastern Tennessee town and, being familiar with that location, I felt the author nailed it with his descriptions of small town life and its challenges. But also the beauty to found there. After losing his mother to an opioid addiction, Cash is no stranger to tragedy, and his life has been far from easy. With his loving grandparents who took him in, his genius best friend Delaney, lawn business, and his peaceful river, he considers himself a lucky guy. There’s not much of a future for him in Sawyer, but when Delaney snags full rides to an elite prep school for both of them, he’s torn about leaving his ailing grandfather and everything that’s familiar. Wanting a better life for him than they can offer, his family encourages him to take advantage of this generous opportunity.

Cash is the proverbial fish out of water when he arrives at school in Connecticut, but he and Delaney have each other to lean on. It’s not long before he makes some wonderful friends (a big shoutout to scene stealer Alex), joins the crew team to get back on the water, and comes across a teacher who takes him under her wing. With her help, Cash discovers poetry, and she encourages him to put his feelings into words. Poetry isn’t something I know much about, but Cash’s words resonated with me, and I found myself rereading the passages. Something I got a kick out of was the trivia Delaney occasionally dropped – educational, fascinating, and sometimes humorous.

This is a beautifully written, character-driven, coming of age tale that’s meant to be savored. At over 400 pages, I enjoyed every word and was sorry when it came to an end. Be prepared for these characters to rise from the pages, sit beside you, and tell you their stories. I’ve missed a couple of this author’s other titles, but based on the two I’ve read, I can’t recommend him enough.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

28 thoughts on “In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner #bookreview #YA #comingofage #contemporary

  1. This sounds good, Teri. Not my usual choice in reads but I love your review. Your description of the characters did it as well as the tenderness you describe. And poetry? I’m going to drag my two-ton kindle over to Amazon and sign this one up on my wishlist. Lol. Thanks a lot. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d heard such wonderful things about The Serpent King and then saw the author at a local book fest. It was my selection for our book club with other members who’d never read YA – to say they were skeptical is putting it mildly. Everyone gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve always felt that a well-written book will grab a reader regardless of genre. There’s some YA that I love(!!!) and some that I can’t stand. I’m not surprised that your book club enjoyed it. I have it on wishlist. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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