Friday, September 10, 2021

In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner


Oh my heart. This book was starred by Booklist, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal for good reason and I am adding my own little personal star here. 

Set in rural Tennessee and at an elite prep school in Connecticut, Zentner's prose is worth reading slowly and savoring.  Chase and Delaney have been best friends since they met in a Nar-Anon meeting. Their lives are deeply embedded in their small Appalachian town, but when Delaney discovers a mold with antibacterial properties in a nearby cave, she is offered a full ride to Middleford, a fancy prep school in New England. She agrees to go, but only on the condition that her best friend Cash goes with her.

So, it is with a jumble of fear and pride, trepidation and excitement, that Cash reluctantly leaves his beloved Mamaw and Papaw, who is extremely ill with emphysema, and takes the long Greyhound ride with Delaney to Connecticut. His culture shock is profound upon arrival and he is plagued by the feelings that he is not smart enough to compete and that he has abandoned his grandparents in Tennessee. 

Surprisingly, though, he discovers poetry, as both a reader and writer.  He makes friends, whose lives appear so different from his - Vi from Brazil and Alex, a Korean-American from Texas. All the while, he watches his beloved best friend soar; their relationship becomes more complicated and painful and yet, they understand each other in a way that nobody else can.

The rich, complex characters in this book are truly beautiful.  The way that Zentner writes about Tennessee, loneliness, loss and love is also truly beautiful. I highly recommend this one!

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