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In the Wild Light

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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 sch 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. From the award-winning author of The Serpent King comes a beautiful examination of grief, found family, and young love.


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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 sch 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. From the award-winning author of The Serpent King comes a beautiful examination of grief, found family, and young love.

30 review for In the Wild Light

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Zentner

    Every book I write is a love story. The first question I ask myself when I start work on a new novel is this: what do you love? This time the answer was: standing in rivers, floating on rivers, reading poems, writing poems, audacious journeys with friends, having friends smarter than you, learning about the wonders of the world from friends smarter than you, that one teacher you never forget, talking on front porches, sitting silent on front porches, watching the sun set, and falling in love. It tu Every book I write is a love story. The first question I ask myself when I start work on a new novel is this: what do you love? This time the answer was: standing in rivers, floating on rivers, reading poems, writing poems, audacious journeys with friends, having friends smarter than you, learning about the wonders of the world from friends smarter than you, that one teacher you never forget, talking on front porches, sitting silent on front porches, watching the sun set, and falling in love. It turned out that a boarding school book was how this story wanted to be told. There’s a particular sort of magnetism that the boarding school story has for a particular sort of person. I’m one of these people. As a kid I dreamed of a place where my love of learning was a social asset, rather than a liability. I imagined a refuge, away from parents and bullies, where I could go to be the person I really wanted to be. Naturally, I’ve always been drawn to boarding school stories for this reason. When I started writing books, I promised myself I’d write one someday. This book is about everything I just mentioned, but it’s about something else. In the words of one of my characters: “[Y]ou are not a creature of grief. You are not a congregation of wounds. You are not the sum of your losses. Your skin is not your scars. Your life is yours and it can be new and wondrous.” Because there’s something else I love that I left for the end: learning that you’re more than you ever thought you could be, and that your life has greater treasures laid up for you than you could ever imagine. This is a reminder I need often. We all do.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tiff at Mostly YA Lit

    4.5 stars. Effervescent, buoyant, heartbreaking and heart making. I might have more words for this beautiful book, but I’m not sure I’ll have complete sentences. This is jaw-droppingly beautiful and Zentner’s best work since The Serpent King. Review to come. I WILL READ ANYTHING THIS MAN WRITES. INCLUDING HIS GROCERY LIST. 4.5 stars. Effervescent, buoyant, heartbreaking and heart making. I might have more words for this beautiful book, but I’m not sure I’ll have complete sentences. This is jaw-droppingly beautiful and Zentner’s best work since The Serpent King. Review to come. I WILL READ ANYTHING THIS MAN WRITES. INCLUDING HIS GROCERY LIST.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marieke du Pré

    I’m in awe! This book is like a love song so mesmerizing, you put it on repeat again and again. Like a poem so vivid, it’s etched into your mind forever. Like prose so tangible, it touches your whole being. And it’s YA, y’all!! When you grow up with ugliness and corruption, you surrender to beauty ... You let it save you, if only for the time it takes a snowflake to melt on your tongue, or for the sun to sink below the horizon in a wildfire of clouds. I loved The Serpent King, a beautiful story! A I’m in awe! This book is like a love song so mesmerizing, you put it on repeat again and again. Like a poem so vivid, it’s etched into your mind forever. Like prose so tangible, it touches your whole being. And it’s YA, y’all!! When you grow up with ugliness and corruption, you surrender to beauty ... You let it save you, if only for the time it takes a snowflake to melt on your tongue, or for the sun to sink below the horizon in a wildfire of clouds. I loved The Serpent King, a beautiful story! An easy five star read. And this? I’d like to give it a million stars. It’s a gem! It could easily be a literary masterpiece! Jeff Zentner juggles with words and puts them together in a hypnotizing way. It left me longing and breathless and smiling and silent and crying and so much more. How can someone make me feel so many emotions just by putting words together? Sometimes a clear day will cloud up without your noticing, until a gust of rain-scented wind nearly steals your balance. That’s how the homesickness hits my center of gravity. And then the story itself. Don’t read it because you want to read a book with a major plot. This is a character driven story and quite simple, but when Jeff Zentner uses his magic, even the simplest things become magnificent. Let this story take your breath away. Let the writing flood you, just feel the warmth, hear the cicadas, smell the grass. Feel Cash’s doubts, endure his homesickness, feel his love for the people around him. In the dim of the porch light I see his eyes, ardent with furious love. It burns through the darkness in me. It pulls me from the maelstrom and drops me, dripping and shivering on the shore. Lastly that cover and title! Like the story they’re simple, and so breathtaking at the same time! They fit Cash and the writing perfectly. And ... I strongly believe this story should not only be pitched as a YA. Like I said above, this could easily be a literary masterpiece! There are days when your heart is so filled with this world’s beauty, it feels like holding too much of something in your hand. Days that taste like wild honey. Thank you so much Jeff Zentner for writing this gorgeous story!! I’m still in awe... And everyone reading this review, even if you normally don’t read YA: please read this brilliant gem of a book! Life often won’t freely give you moments of joy. Sometimes you have to wrench them away and cup them in your hands, to protect them from the wind and rain. Art is a pair of cupped hands. Poetry is a pair of cupped hands. I received an ARC from Andersen Press LTD and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I wish this book were coming out sooner than August because it’s a book I want to talk about with so many people. The exploration of gentle masculinity, of loving familial and platonic male relationships, is one that will stay with me for a long time.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kezia Duah

    I have confirmed a new quirk of mine. When I finish a really good book, I clap my hands as if I just watched a performance… and boy did I clap my hands for this! You know when you can sense a book is going to be 5 stars from reading the first chapters, well I knew from chapter 11. This was way too pure for me. I really really loved it. It was still hard to rate because I did have some issues, but I still felt it deserved 5 stars. The poems were so good, and some parts that were not poems still f I have confirmed a new quirk of mine. When I finish a really good book, I clap my hands as if I just watched a performance… and boy did I clap my hands for this! You know when you can sense a book is going to be 5 stars from reading the first chapters, well I knew from chapter 11. This was way too pure for me. I really really loved it. It was still hard to rate because I did have some issues, but I still felt it deserved 5 stars. The poems were so good, and some parts that were not poems still felt like reading poetry. ‼️SPOILERS‼️ Okay back to the issues… The character development for Cash took way longer than I wanted. I wanted to be positive and just say “oh, he’s just humble,” but then he started to project the low self-esteem onto Delaney and I was not happy about that. And the fact that Delaney had to say I love you before Cash realized it himself was just so annoying honestly. This might be controversial: Cash didn’t deserve Delaney…and that’s on period. Low key wishing this book had a sequel, because this left me wanting more. Great job, Zentner!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Book Clubbed,

    Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC. Please listen to the full review at: https://bookclubbed.buzzsprout.com/15... In the Wild Light is anchored by its co-leads, Cash & Delaney, specifically through their chemistry and dialogue. We don’t see an excess of authentic boy/girl friendships in YA, at least operating at this level, so that is an achievement in and of itself. The dialogue is also great, occupying that tiny sliver in the venn diagram where “realistic chit-chat and conversational quirks” ov Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC. Please listen to the full review at: https://bookclubbed.buzzsprout.com/15... In the Wild Light is anchored by its co-leads, Cash & Delaney, specifically through their chemistry and dialogue. We don’t see an excess of authentic boy/girl friendships in YA, at least operating at this level, so that is an achievement in and of itself. The dialogue is also great, occupying that tiny sliver in the venn diagram where “realistic chit-chat and conversational quirks” overlaps with “witty, engaging banter which makes you want to be friends with them too.” I also loved the profile of a small southern town, where people are struggling but maintain dignity, where they are doing the best to take care of their own, where the young people are torn between a bigger city with opportunity and the gentle rhythms of the community and surrounding nature. The secondary characters are complex and enjoyable, outside of an evil Post Malone cartoon character who serves as the bad guy in the first half of the novel, and the zero-dimensional frat boy who takes over as the bad guy in the second half. Other than that, the friendships made at the boarding school are handled with great care and Zenter captures the bonds that teenagers form under mounting stress. The book packs an emotional wallop in the second half, one that you see coming but still catches you across the temple nonetheless. I’m not a crying-when-reading type of person, but maybe have tissues on deck just in case.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Samantha (WLABB)

    After making a rather incredible biological discovery, Delaney was offered a chance to escape to a place that would nurture her brilliance, and she was taking her best friend Cash with her. My love for Zentner’s books has no bounds. I know several things will happen when I read a Jeff Zentner book. 1. I will meet some incredible and memorable characters. 2. I will be part of a very personal journey with them. 3. I will laugh at times. 4. I will cry. 5. I will be filled with feels. And, yes! Zentner did After making a rather incredible biological discovery, Delaney was offered a chance to escape to a place that would nurture her brilliance, and she was taking her best friend Cash with her. My love for Zentner’s books has no bounds. I know several things will happen when I read a Jeff Zentner book. 1. I will meet some incredible and memorable characters. 2. I will be part of a very personal journey with them. 3. I will laugh at times. 4. I will cry. 5. I will be filled with feels. And, yes! Zentner did it again with this beautiful story of love, loss, family, and friendship. MEMORABLE CHARACTERS I met and fell in love with some many characters in this book. I was quite taken with Delaney’s drive and strength, and Dr. Adkins ability to see and nurture talent, but I think it was Cash and Pawpaw who owned my heart. Cash was a gentle soul with a huge heart. He loved fiercely and was protective of his own. He sometimes did the unpopular thing because he knew it was the right thing. The more time I spent with Cash, the more my love for him grew. I cheered all his successes and felt the pain of all his losses. And then, there was Pawpaw. Wow! He really embedded himself in my heart. Those talks he shared with Cash were amazing and touched me deeply. He was just a beautiful man, and his positive influence on others was obvious. PERSONAL JOURNEY It was very difficult for Cash to leave his home for that fancy boarding school. He was not only a fish-out-of-water there, he was afraid to give up any time with his grandparents. He was, however, determined to make them proud. A great deal of this story is Cash struggling with self-doubt and the pain of his past. He felt so lost until Dr. Adkins saw something in him and took him under her wing. She came from a similar background as Cash, was able to relate to him, and helped him find his passion – poetry. I LOVED the exquisite poems woven into this story. Cash was already a well-drawn character, but his poems gave him even more depth and were such a lovely way to help him find himself and work through some of his pain. FAMILY AND FRIENDSHIP Delaney and Cash shared a deep, deep bond. They both experienced trauma related to their mothers’ drug addiction, and because of that, they had a bone-deep understanding of each other. Cash was fortunate to have the endless love and support of his grandparents, and they doled that love out just as equally to Delaney. I also had great fondness for the bromance between Alex and Cash. Their friendship was a beautiful thing. They suffered through crew together, ironed together, and were known to hug it out when necessary. It was a pleasure seeing that friendship grow and flourish. I LOVED THESE THINGS! • Easter Eggs – there are nods to all Zentner’s books in this story. One made my heart explode! • The Laundry Boys – Alex and Cash’s laundry sessions were always a good time • Sawyer – Cash’s love for his hometown shined through, and I appreciated the vivid depictions of the beauty of his home. • Delaney + Science – I will always laud a STEM loving character, and there was some cool science mentioned. • The Poetry – I talked this earlier, but it really deserves a second mention. I was really grateful that Zentner shared his poems with us. I already thought him a word wizard, but these let him showcase that talent in a different way. Overall: This book was stunning and emotional. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking. It was simply something special and worthy of every tear I shed. *ARC provided in exchange for an honest review. BLOG | INSTAGRAM |TWITTER | BLOGLOVIN | FRIEND ME ON GOODREADS

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kate Olson

    I'm going to make a bold statement here, and say that this is my new favorite YA book. Given my generally intense feelings about books I read and like, it's HUGE for me to say it's my favorite. I sobbed for the entire last 25% of the book and was riveted from page 1. And the sobbing was about something sad in the book, but also about my love for the characters and Cash's outstanding character and seeing in him what I want to see in ALL young people. "In the Wild Light" is poetic, atmospheric and I'm going to make a bold statement here, and say that this is my new favorite YA book. Given my generally intense feelings about books I read and like, it's HUGE for me to say it's my favorite. I sobbed for the entire last 25% of the book and was riveted from page 1. And the sobbing was about something sad in the book, but also about my love for the characters and Cash's outstanding character and seeing in him what I want to see in ALL young people. "In the Wild Light" is poetic, atmospheric and a shining example of young adult literature reflecting the world we actually live in. Set in both rural, opioid-ravaged Tennessee and an elite boarding school on the East Coast, this book hits two things I absolutely love seeing in YA, but don't see enough ~ rural settings and income inequity. Whenever a book impacts me like this one did, I dig deep to figure out WHY it hit me so hard. For this one, I think a large part of it was reading this directly after finishing "The Catcher in the Rye" (an often-required novel which I disliked intensely) and caused me to reflect a lot on the types of characters I want today's teens reading about and modeling themselves on. I want teens reading books exactly the opposite of "The Catcher in the Rye". I want teens reading about characters like Cash and Delaney, emotionally aware males, raw grief, the opioid epidemic, the beauty of nature, genius girls, nontraditional families, deep family ties, small towns, positive therapy experiences, standing up to toxicity, and most of all, deeply good people getting what they deserve. Of course I want teens reading about other people and places and themes as well ~ for our teens to take our currently divisive world and transform it into a community of caring and empathy, we need our young adults exposed to all of the experiences and worlds we possibly can. Replacing an outdated classic with a book like this in English classes would be one step in the right direction.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cory Marie

    I’ve always known that Jeff Zentner has a way with words. And I think In the Wild Light may just be his best work yet. He writes in a way that forces the reader to truly experience something. The smells, tastes, touches, and overall imagery in this book are brilliantly and uniquely described. Just through the power of words I could smell the wonderful scents of the South, taste the goodness of country cooking, and feel the air of all four seasons. This. This is why I love reading, and why I espe I’ve always known that Jeff Zentner has a way with words. And I think In the Wild Light may just be his best work yet. He writes in a way that forces the reader to truly experience something. The smells, tastes, touches, and overall imagery in this book are brilliantly and uniquely described. Just through the power of words I could smell the wonderful scents of the South, taste the goodness of country cooking, and feel the air of all four seasons. This. This is why I love reading, and why I especially loved In the Wild Light. In the Wild Light has so many incredible quotes that it would be impossible for me to pick just one favorite. It would be far easier for someone to tell me a random page number and I’d pick one from there. There is honestly something profound, funny, emotional, or inspiring on every single page of this novel. And don’t even get me started on the poetry. I’m a novice when it comes to reading and appreciating poetry, but even I can tell you that the poems scattered throughout this book were written with great care and sincere emotion. One thing I particularly love about all of Jeff’s books is the message that you don’t have to do overly impressive things to live a life full of love and dignity. While the circumstances that lead to Cash and Delaney ending up at a boarding school are indeed extraordinary, this book goes to show that sometimes our most memorable and important moments can be lunches at McDonald’s, quiet canoe rides on the river, and even doing laundry with a good friend. I’m not the type to beg. But very often I find myself begging people to read Jeff Zentner’s books. Not because I’m a snob and think that I have the best taste in literature, but because I think you are denying yourself of a remarkable experience if you don’t take the opportunity to let his beautiful words flow through your brain. In the Wild Light comes out August 10th and I can assure you that it is not a read you want to miss out on. Shoutout to the amazing Jeff Zentner for giving me the opportunity to read In the Wild Light early!!!! Forever grateful for you and your books.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Eileen

    5 amazing stars My trash bin is now overflowing with kleenex as I sob my heart out. Seriously, this book had me weeping from about the 60% mark when he wrote his first poem until the end. I absolutely fell in love with Cash, Delaney, Pawpaw, Mawmaw, Alex, Vi, and Bree. I was a bit concerned when I read that this was a Boarding School story because I was expecting a story full of rich entitled jerks, and although there are at least three of them in this story, this story was so much more! We are i 5 amazing stars My trash bin is now overflowing with kleenex as I sob my heart out. Seriously, this book had me weeping from about the 60% mark when he wrote his first poem until the end. I absolutely fell in love with Cash, Delaney, Pawpaw, Mawmaw, Alex, Vi, and Bree. I was a bit concerned when I read that this was a Boarding School story because I was expecting a story full of rich entitled jerks, and although there are at least three of them in this story, this story was so much more! We are introduced to Cash and Delaney in their hometown of Sawyer, and although drug addiction is a real problem and more than a few families are struggling just to make ends meet, the author does an amazing job showing us what they both love so much about their hometown, even if their own personal experiences with their family were traumatic with addicted mothers and disappearing fathers. The sources of hope in both of their lives come from Mawmaw and Pawpaw (Cash's grandparents) and their own friendship. The book slowly moves them to the boarding school where they are both in total culture shock and not sure if they should be there. And yes, Cash's roommate is an entitled jerk, and that could be the crux of his boarding school experience. But that's not what this book is about and Cash quickly finds his squad in Alex, Vi, and of course Delaney. There are others at the school who are really cool as well, but throughout, Cash (and Delaney) struggle with taking advantage of this opportunity for them to live their best selves, but also being worried about Pawpaw's failing health. This pacing of this book is just perfect, in my opinion, with parts of it capturing the stillness and peace of Sawyer, and parts of it capturing the energy and speed of New York City. Throughout the latter half of the book, poetry is used as a way to help Cash find himself, and from the moment he wrote his first words, I was completely captured. I am not a poetry person normally, but I looked forward to reading every single poem, slowly and repeatedly. Every single verse he wrote left me in tears. This book was truly a coming of age for both Cash and Delaney, but it was also about grief and celebration, trauma and healing, friendship and family. I loved all the different kinds of love that the author included in this book, including many of the deep friendships that developed in this book, both romantic and platonic. I initially intended to read this book over several days, and I even put it down a couple of times intending to call it a night. But the book kept calling me and so here I sit after midnight just soaking in this book. Sometimes a book just speaks to you and for me, this was one of those. I am so grateful I was able to receive an advance review copy from NetGalley, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

  11. 5 out of 5

    (old.enough.for.fairytales)

    "You are not a creature of grief. You are not a congregation of wounds. You are not the sum of your losses. Your skin is not your scars. Your life is yours, and it can be new and wondrous. Remember that." Alright I finally feel emotionally recovered enough to attempt a review. Easy 5 stars, obviously. Probably my new favorite Zentner. Everything about this book was stunning. The characters and their journeys, the setting, the writing, the poetry...all of it. Jeff Zentner's writing is relata "You are not a creature of grief. You are not a congregation of wounds. You are not the sum of your losses. Your skin is not your scars. Your life is yours, and it can be new and wondrous. Remember that." Alright I finally feel emotionally recovered enough to attempt a review. Easy 5 stars, obviously. Probably my new favorite Zentner. Everything about this book was stunning. The characters and their journeys, the setting, the writing, the poetry...all of it. Jeff Zentner's writing is relatable, easy to grasp, yet the way he arranges his words and articulates his narrative absolutely knocks you over with its beauty. It's something that I think he does better than anybody else. He brings beauty to the mundane, he makes you feel for people you'd usually overlook... he gives dignity to unremarkable, "average" people. I find what I love most about my favorite authors is that they tell previously overlooked, untold stories. Which is why I love all of Jeff's books. There's nothing spectacular or special about any of his main characters. They're the kids in your high school that you probably didn't know much about, the cashier at the Dairy Queen, the quirky kids with the odd hobbies, the misfits in your hometown. But he gives them dignity. He makes you look at those "average" and "unspectacular" people and see that they actually are spectacular and special, in their own ways. "I've always loved when the light finds the broken spots in the world and makes them beautiful." That's what Jeff does through his writing. He finds the "broken spots" and makes them beautiful. This book is special. The characters are special. And I hope you give this special book a chance. If you've never given contemporary fic a chance, I beg you to try Jeff's books. I'm not saying his books will all of a sudden make you love all contemporary, realistic fic...but I am saying that his books are remarkable and able to be loved and appreciated by every type of reader. Readers love good stories, and all of Jeff's stories are good. "There are days when your heart is so filled with this world's beauty, it feels like holding too much of something in your hand. Days that taste like wild honey. This is one of them."

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sara Grochowski

    This book made me ugly cry with an intensity I haven't experienced in awhile, which speaks to the depth of emotion Zenter packs into his stories. Also, when are we getting a book of poetry from Zenter? Because I'm on board for that! This book made me ugly cry with an intensity I haven't experienced in awhile, which speaks to the depth of emotion Zenter packs into his stories. Also, when are we getting a book of poetry from Zenter? Because I'm on board for that!

  13. 5 out of 5

    eda

    Beautiful story about family and friendship. All the feels-soo good!! Jeff Zentner is an amazing writer and writes in such a poetic and relatable way. A must read for 2021

  14. 5 out of 5

    Gail

    I can't review a book written by Jeff Zentner without disclosing my bias for his work: I have followed him online since discovering "Serpent King" years ago, and, over the years, have struck up a friendship with him. This is why I knew, months ahead of its August release, that Jeff had a new book coming out—it's also why, fan that I am, I couldn't wait to dive in to it. For sure, I was not disappointed. "In the Wild Light" serves up all the familiar delights of Jeff's previous novels—prose that I can't review a book written by Jeff Zentner without disclosing my bias for his work: I have followed him online since discovering "Serpent King" years ago, and, over the years, have struck up a friendship with him. This is why I knew, months ahead of its August release, that Jeff had a new book coming out—it's also why, fan that I am, I couldn't wait to dive in to it. For sure, I was not disappointed. "In the Wild Light" serves up all the familiar delights of Jeff's previous novels—prose that borders on poetry, scenes that make you laugh one moment and tear up on the next page, an abundance of sensory details, scenic descriptions of Tennessee, and teenage characters whose greatest attributes are their heart and their humility. In Jeff's hands, these elements come together this time around to tell the story of Cash*** and Delaney, high school friends whose bond is formed by tragedy and then transformed when, together, they leave behind their hometown for the educational opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to attend an elite East Coast boarding school on full scholarship. I always lose count of how many pages I dog-ear in Jeff's books, but enough that the book grows bigger by the time I (unwillingly) turn to the last page. That was true here, of course. But what I especially loved about this title, and maybe it has to do with my own children getting older and so my "parent hat" is more firmly in place, is my appreciation for the many scenes in which Jeff was telling his readers that it's okay to: — feel like an outsider — seek help for your mental health, especially if you are a guy — find solace in religion, especially prayer — be proud of your family, no matter your socioeconomic background — express emotions in front of your friends — stick up for someone who needs help, especially when that someone is a young woman in duress Those are important lessons that everyone needs to hear, but especially the young adults who make up Jeff's core audience. A beautiful book and my favorite of Jeff's novels since his debut, which will forever hold a spot on my shelf of all-time favorite reads. ***Bonus points to Jeff for working in the reference to Cash's physical resemblance to River Phoenix. Long live my crush on that beautiful, young man who died way too soon.

  15. 4 out of 5

    The Nerd Daily

    Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Mimi Koehler It is astounding how Jeff Zentner keeps on finding new ways to break my heart and stitch it back together. Even the simple task of choosing a quote for this review was hell on earth because there is a plethora of quotes in this book that made me tear up or feel seen or both and you’d think after three books I would be used to Zentner cracking me open and finding all the broken parts and fix it with a simple story but nope, still blow Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Mimi Koehler It is astounding how Jeff Zentner keeps on finding new ways to break my heart and stitch it back together. Even the simple task of choosing a quote for this review was hell on earth because there is a plethora of quotes in this book that made me tear up or feel seen or both and you’d think after three books I would be used to Zentner cracking me open and finding all the broken parts and fix it with a simple story but nope, still blown away by his talent every single time. I preface this review with the fact that I in no way will be able to do this book justice but anyway, let’s give this a go. In the Wild Light follows Cash whose life in a small Appalachian town has never been easy. Losing his mother to an opioid addiction as a child and living with his Papaw who is dying slowly from emphysema, Cash is no stranger to heartbreaking loss. The only light in his life is his best friend, the exceptionally smart Delaney. When Delaney manages to snag them both full rides to an elite prep school in Connecticut, Cash has to grapple with his need to follow Delaney to protect her from the harsh world and his love for his grandparents that he does not want to leave behind. Following his dreams and the girl that is the best part in his life, Cash suddenly finds himself surrounded by foreign challenges and will have to find a way to swim in shark-infested waters, if only to make sure none of them bite Delaney. Read the FULL REVIEW on The Nerd Daily

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Krajewski

    Cash Pruitt lives in Sawyer, Tennessee, a small town filled with gorgeous rivers and rolling hills, but also addiction. He already lost his mother to drugs, and his beloved Papaw is slowly dying from emphysema. Addiction did create one positive in his life though: Delaney Doyle. A scientist at heart, and a true genius, Delaney teaches Cash so much about the world, and he provides a distraction from her addict mother. They are still each other’s lifelines. On one of their trips into the wild, Del Cash Pruitt lives in Sawyer, Tennessee, a small town filled with gorgeous rivers and rolling hills, but also addiction. He already lost his mother to drugs, and his beloved Papaw is slowly dying from emphysema. Addiction did create one positive in his life though: Delaney Doyle. A scientist at heart, and a true genius, Delaney teaches Cash so much about the world, and he provides a distraction from her addict mother. They are still each other’s lifelines. On one of their trips into the wild, Delaney makes a scientific discovery that changes their lives: she earns both Cash and herself full scholarships to a Connecticut boarding school. Deciding to go, Cash can’t help but wonder what this school will do for him. His experience ends up being more than he ever could have imagined. I cried more times than I could count. Jeff Zentner has a remarkable talent for creating realistic, lovely, unforgettable characters. I loved the friendship of the foursome—Cash, Delaney, Vi, and Alex—Papaw, Mamaw, and I adored Cash’s connection with Dr. Adkins, and poetry. (I have 4 pages of poetry quotes alone that I can’t wait to share with students!) Love and death are woven into this story in a variety of ways, and I enjoyed seeing that Zentner snuck his other books into this one. I look forward to buying a copy in August so I can reread it and mark it up. This book is a new “forever favorite,” and one that I will gift to MANY people.

  17. 4 out of 5

    jessica

    ‘life has given me little reason to feel large, but i see no need to make myself feel smaller.’ JZs books have never failed to move me, but this is the first time he has made me ugly cry. this is the kind of story that gently touches you and the feeling spreads right to your very core. its a story of loss and new opportunities, of the homes that create us and that distant places that refine us, of peaceful waters and contentious anxiety, of best friends and family, of the healing power of wor ‘life has given me little reason to feel large, but i see no need to make myself feel smaller.’ JZs books have never failed to move me, but this is the first time he has made me ugly cry. this is the kind of story that gently touches you and the feeling spreads right to your very core. its a story of loss and new opportunities, of the homes that create us and that distant places that refine us, of peaceful waters and contentious anxiety, of best friends and family, of the healing power of words and finding the beauty in struggles. but most importantly, its a story of not letting your circumstances or emotions limit you, of becoming the person others have helped you to be, and living a life of your own making. ‘you are not a creature of grief. you are not a congregation of wounds. you are not the sum of your losses. your skin is not your scars. your life is yours and it can be new and wondrous.’ even though this is a coming-of-age story, these are the kind of messages and reminders that everyone needs. and they are so stunningly and tenderly told. easily JZs best work and easily a timeless story i know i will reread over and over again. ↠ 5 stars

  18. 4 out of 5

    kelly {BookCrushin}

    My eyes hurt from tears … and from the beauty & vulnerability that exists in this book. Jeff’s poetic and lyrical words cut through you deep to your core. Hauntingly gorgeous glimpse of life and pain and becoming whom you truly are which embraces all whom you love, where you’re from, and the truths you’ve lived.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This was beautifully written. Zentner is such an amazing writer.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sarah {The Clever Reader}

    "Every hurt, every sorrow, every scar has brought you here. Poetry let's us turn pain into fire by which to warm ourselves. Go build a fire." This book is beautiful. Cash's story of love, friendship, and grief is written in such an elegant and poetic way. This is definitely a top read of 2021 and will stay with me forever. "Every hurt, every sorrow, every scar has brought you here. Poetry let's us turn pain into fire by which to warm ourselves. Go build a fire." This book is beautiful. Cash's story of love, friendship, and grief is written in such an elegant and poetic way. This is definitely a top read of 2021 and will stay with me forever.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Shepard (Between-the-Shelves)

    Listened to the audiobook now that this book is out in the world and it's just as good the second time around. Plus, the narrator they chose was perfect for Cash! ---- Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for an advance copy of this to review! This is one of my most anticipated releases of the year and I'm happy to say that it lived up to the hype. Like, I already want to read this again if I knew it wasn't going to emotionally devastate me. I'm going to do my best to put my feelings into words! Je Listened to the audiobook now that this book is out in the world and it's just as good the second time around. Plus, the narrator they chose was perfect for Cash! ---- Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for an advance copy of this to review! This is one of my most anticipated releases of the year and I'm happy to say that it lived up to the hype. Like, I already want to read this again if I knew it wasn't going to emotionally devastate me. I'm going to do my best to put my feelings into words! Jeff Zentner has a way of writing grief that just melts from the page. That's something that connects each book that he's written, all of which I highly recommend. This book is no different. At its core, this is a book about grief; about how we work through it, how we move forward. How we let friends and family help us through it. And how we take hold of opportunities handed to us. One of the things that Zentner added to this book was poetry. Cash is on a journey learning how poetry and art is important in life (and his teacher is the best. She's one of my favorite characters). The poetry included in the book fits so well with the characters and the story. It feels effortless. Zentner's prose feels like poetry at times, and it really just shines in this book. And the characters! You'll fall in love with Cash right from the beginning. Delaney, too. The friends they meet at school, Alex and Vi, are also so well-rounded. Their little squad is beautiful and ever teenager deserves a squad like that. Cash might be a little oblivious at times, but you'll be rooting for him throughout the whole book. Like always, there are nods to Zentner's other books in here, too. I won't spoil them, but I love these little nods. You have all summer to catch up before this book comes out, so do it now! All in all, this book will put you through an emotional ringer, but it is so worth it. I can't wait to do a quote round up for it when it comes out in August! ----- Who gave Jeff Zentner the right to play with our emotions like this? I am truly blown away by this book, I honestly think it's some of his best work. And seriously, be prepared to cry. I mean, why wouldn't you be, it's a Jeff Zentner book. Stay tuned for a full review later this week while I pull together my emotions!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Pernille Ripp

    With gorgeous language, Jeff Zentner once again invites us into a life that could easily be overlooked but whose very existence doesn't allow us to forget them. It is clear that the book is written with such care for the lives of the character and it makes us care deeply about them as well. I read the book in one day, needing to see the path that Cash ultimately chooses for himself, needing to sit with him and Papaw as they remind us of the beauty that comes in absolute love and care for one ano With gorgeous language, Jeff Zentner once again invites us into a life that could easily be overlooked but whose very existence doesn't allow us to forget them. It is clear that the book is written with such care for the lives of the character and it makes us care deeply about them as well. I read the book in one day, needing to see the path that Cash ultimately chooses for himself, needing to sit with him and Papaw as they remind us of the beauty that comes in absolute love and care for one another. A quiet book, perhaps, but one that roars with determination.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Meredith (booksbythewater)

    Update: I have popped back in here to remind you all how absurdly EXCITED I AM for this book (!!!!!!) and shamelessly beg for an ARC of this. Hello cruel world, please grant me this small thing, I beg of you :') EXCUSE ME YES FREAKIN PLEASE!!!!!!!!!! I HAD NO IDEA THE TITLE WAS OUT????????? Unfortunately, we have to wait another year for this :'(. The world is cruel, but Zentner's books sure do make it a lot better. DID I MENTION HOW EXCITED I AM?????? Update: I have popped back in here to remind you all how absurdly EXCITED I AM for this book (!!!!!!) and shamelessly beg for an ARC of this. Hello cruel world, please grant me this small thing, I beg of you :') EXCUSE ME YES FREAKIN PLEASE!!!!!!!!!! I HAD NO IDEA THE TITLE WAS OUT????????? Unfortunately, we have to wait another year for this :'(. The world is cruel, but Zentner's books sure do make it a lot better. DID I MENTION HOW EXCITED I AM??????

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sherry

    Did not disappoint. Oh my heart. ❤️ These characters... this story.

  25. 4 out of 5

    lily ✿

    if you’re one of those special breeds of misogynist who is always asking for book recommendations that will make you cry, then you are in the right place. look no further. i debated for a while what i should rate this book, but when i hit about page 300, in tears, i knew that there was no answer other than five stars. this book did exactly what it was supposed to do: it made me feel something. in this case, yes, that something was immense sorrow, but still. in the wild light follows cash pruitt th if you’re one of those special breeds of misogynist who is always asking for book recommendations that will make you cry, then you are in the right place. look no further. i debated for a while what i should rate this book, but when i hit about page 300, in tears, i knew that there was no answer other than five stars. this book did exactly what it was supposed to do: it made me feel something. in this case, yes, that something was immense sorrow, but still. in the wild light follows cash pruitt through a year in his life. our story begins in his small hometown of sawyer, tennessee, a town of drug overdoses and the glorious beauty of nature that somehow manage to exist side by side. he follows his friend, delaney, across the country to a fancy boarding school filled with rich kids in connecticut, after she discovers a special breed of mold that conquers all antibiotic-resist infections (and as someone whose mémé passed away from one of those infections, i wish that this particular part of the novel wasn’t fiction). this book is a story of change. it is one of internal conflict, as cash struggles to feel like he belongs at a school that he’s only at in the first place because delaney convinced the board that she wasn’t coming unless her best friend cash got a scholarship, too. it is one of friendship, the deep bond between cash and delaney and between the new friends that they make at middleford. it is one of poetry - zentner’s prose reads so much like poetry. it makes you want to read poems. it makes you want to /write/ poems. more than anyone of those things, in the wild light is a book of love, and it is a book of loss. it is devastating in one of the most heart wrenching and healing ways. it reveals a truth about grief that i had not found within the pages of a book yet. SPOILERS // the only part of this book that i didn’t love was delaney and cash becoming a couple. believe it or not, i actually am a fan of childhood friends to lovers, but i felt like their friendship stood weight on its own. i feel like we don’t give enough merit to the platonic kind of love, and this book would have hit just as hard if that element was removed entirely. however, that’s just my opinion. this book was still incredible, and i highly recommend it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mimi

    "You are not a creature of grief. You are not a congregation of wounds. You are not the sum of your losses. Your skin is not your scars. Your life is yours, and it can be new and wondrous. Remember that.” Readers, if you thought this was going to be the one time you weren't going to bawl while reading a Jeff Zentner book, GUESS AGAIN "You are not a creature of grief. You are not a congregation of wounds. You are not the sum of your losses. Your skin is not your scars. Your life is yours, and it can be new and wondrous. Remember that.” Readers, if you thought this was going to be the one time you weren't going to bawl while reading a Jeff Zentner book, GUESS AGAIN

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bryant

    Without a doubt, Jeff Zentner's finest work. Without a doubt, Jeff Zentner's finest work.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Mathey

    After reading In the Wild Light, I want to be a better person/friend; this is the power in books.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    First sentence: The human eye can discern more shades of green than of any other color. My friend Delaney told me that. She said it’s an adaptation from when ancient humans lived in forests. Our eyes evolved that way as a survival mechanism to spot predators hiding in the vegetation. There are as many tinges of understanding as there are hues of green in a forest. Some things are easy to understand. There’s a natural logic, a clear cause and effect. Like how an engine works. Premise/plot: Cash Pr First sentence: The human eye can discern more shades of green than of any other color. My friend Delaney told me that. She said it’s an adaptation from when ancient humans lived in forests. Our eyes evolved that way as a survival mechanism to spot predators hiding in the vegetation. There are as many tinges of understanding as there are hues of green in a forest. Some things are easy to understand. There’s a natural logic, a clear cause and effect. Like how an engine works. Premise/plot: Cash Pruitt is offered a once in a lifetime opportunity: a scholarship to an elite boarding school where his best, best friend, Delaney Doyle, is attending. But it will mean leaving everything--and everyone--he loves behind for a few years. It will mean moving from Tennessee to Connecticut. Just at a time when he wants to be with his Papaw the most. But...ONCE in a lifetime. And everyone is telling him that he'd be a complete fool to pass this up... In the Wild Light is a coming of age novel that chronicle's Cash's (first) year away at school. It is a GROWING time but also a grieving time. My thoughts: The characters are oh-so-human. It is an emotional roller coaster of a book. It's tough in some places because the emotions are so genuinely raw. I dare anyone--who's lost a grandparent--to not *feel* that chapter. Not that every page of this one is about punching you in the heart. The strength of this one is in the writing--the narrative--and the characters. BOTH are so well done. Quotes: s o m e quotes contain s p o i l e r s She’s tried to explain how her mind functions, without success. How do you tell someone what salt tastes like? Sometimes you just know the things you know. It’s not her fault we don’t get it. People still treat her like she’s to blame. Some aren’t okay with not understanding everything. But I’m not afraid of a world filled with mystery. It’s why I can be best friends with Delaney Doyle. A ray catches a crack in the windshield and illuminates it, a tiny comet. I’ve always loved when the light finds the broken spots in the world and makes them beautiful. “I got an offer to go to a boarding school up north.” My heart plummets. With all the press she’s been getting, I knew this day would come. I swallow, then nod for her to continue. “Oh wow.” The unease in my voice is obvious to my own ears even as the words leave my lips. “Middleford Academy. In New Canaan, Connecticut.” “Sounds fancy.” My head swims. “It’s one of the top five prep schools in America. This lady from Alabama named Adriana Vu, who made hundreds of millions in biotech, went to Middleford. She donated a shitload of money to the school to fund this amazing lab and STEM program. She contacted me and said she’d talked to Middleford and she’d pay for me to go there.” Ever since I first became aware that the world contains mysteries and incomprehensible wonders, I’ve tried to live as a witness to them. As we came to know each other, I began to see something in Delaney that I’d never seen in another person. I can’t name that thing. Maybe it has no name, the way fire has no shape. It was something ferocious and consuming, like fire. And I wanted to be close to it, the way people want to stand near a fire. Where’s my Tess at? No Longmire tonight?” Tess is short for Tesla, which is what he started calling Delaney after she told him that Nikola Tesla was her favorite scientist. Before that, he called her Einstein. “Tending her half brothers.” “Y’all are like to have ruint my Saturday night. Life has given me little reason to feel large, but I see no need to make myself feel smaller. “Death’s all around us. We live our whole lives in its shadow. It’ll do what it will. So we need to do what we will while we can.” With that, our conversation dwindles. I rock and feel on my face the caress of the cool evening air, scented by the damp green of broken vines and cut grass. Beside me, Mamaw and Papaw hold hands but don’t speak. Above us is an immaculate chaos of white stars and drifting moonlit-silver clouds. I remember how I would sit under the sanctuary of the night sky, into the late hours, waiting for my mama to get home. Or to escape her dopesick moaning and thrashing. Or to avoid the red-rimmed, whiskey-fogged glare of a new boyfriend. Or because I needed to feel like there was something beautiful in this world that could never be taken from me. Papaw coughs and coughs. Eventually, he collects himself. I listen to his shallow, uneven respiration. Ask me to number the breaths I wish for you. One more. Ask me a thousand times. The answer will always be one more I thought the predawn tranquility would help me find some peace. But the quiet is just another clamor in my head, calling me in every direction I can’t choose between. This must be what it’s like to die. You look around you and see how much of what you love you leave behind. Delaney nestles herself into my side and asks me, “If you could know everyone who’s ever loved you, would you want to know?” I think about my answer for a few moments. Would I? Would it be better to know that someone you never thought loved you did love you? Or would it be worse to know that someone you always thought loved you didn’t? It’s not a question you can answer, like so many she poses, and I go to tell her so. By the time I do, though, she’s sound asleep—soon twitching and jerking as her slumber deepens. Careful not to rouse her, I pull a hoodie out of my backpack and drape it over her. I sit with my ghostly reflection in the finger-smudged window for company, as the new and sprawling American countryside blurs past us in the darkness. We try to put new students with other new students.” Yolanda scans a paper. “So…Cash. You’ll be rooming with Patrick McGrath III—he goes by Tripp. He’s from Phoenix, Arizona. His father was actually just elected to the US House of Representatives.” My newly full stomach roils. Hope you’re a good guy, Tripp. Sounds like you’re a rich and powerful one. “Now for you, Delaney.” Yolanda leafs through her papers. “Here we go. Viviani Xavier. I think I’m saying that right? The X is a sh sound. She comes to us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.” “You better brush up on your Spanish,” I tell Delaney. “They speak Portuguese in Brazil,” Delaney says. “It’s the language most spoken in South America.” “Viviani speaks excellent English,” Yolanda says. “You’ll have no trouble communicating.” “I think of poetry lovers as people who love beautiful things.” He stops to catch his breath. “You love the beauty in this world. Ain’t a reason I can think of you don’t belong in a poetry class. I’d thought about how funny it would be if when you got to heaven, God could give you a printout with all of your life’s vital statistics. How much hair you produced. How many colds you defeated. How many times you skinned your knees. How many nightmares you endured. How many pancakes you ate. Every brave thing you did. Every heartbreak you overcame. Everyone you mourned. Everyone you ever loved. Everyone who ever loved you. Before I left, Papaw told me that if I’m ever hanging out with a group, I should be the one to suggest getting ice cream, because it’ll always be a good time and it’ll be my doing. So before it’s time to leave, I do exactly that, and he’s right. But we don’t choose our dreams; they choose us. So instead I dream of doors sealed by death and wake up sweating in the mute darkness, my roommate sleeping in blissful oblivion a few feet away and a world apart. Memory is a tether. Sometimes you get some slack in the line and you can play it out for a while. You forget and think you’re free. But you’ll always get to the end and realize it’s still there, binding you, reminding you of itself, reminding you that you belong to each other. Poetry is one of the highest artistic achievements of humankind. “I told you that there are many things that poetry won’t do. But there are many things poetry will do. Poetry makes arguments. It presents cases for better ways of living and seeing the world and those around us. It heals wounds. It opens our eyes to wonder and ugliness and beauty and brutality. Poetry can be the one light that lasts the night. The warmth that survives the winter. The harvest that survives the long drought. The love that survives death. The things poetry can do are far more important than the things it can’t.” Life often won’t freely give you moments of joy. Sometimes you have to wrench them away and cup them in your hands, to protect them from the wind and rain. Art is a pair of cupped hands. Poetry is a pair of cupped hands.” Poets use language in ways I’ve never considered, to describe things I thought defied description. Dr. Adkins picked poets who write about the world. About rivers and fireflies and formations of geese and deer and rain and wind. Things I love. By the time I’m done reading at least one poem out of each book (usually more), I’m experiencing a deep calm, like I feel after being on a river, under the sun, in the wind, feeling the spray off my paddle. For those brief moments strolling through the forest of words, everything had disappeared. Papaw wasn’t dying while I was far from him at a place where I didn’t belong, always on the precipice of disappointing him. I had stolen moments of joy from a hungry world that devours them and protected them for a while in cupped hands. I sit with the feeling for as long as I can before it fades and loses definition, like a cloud formation. Then I remember the second part of my assignment. To write a poem. This part makes me more apprehensive. Vi gets to the end of her twig. “You deserve to do what you love in life.” I pick up another twig and hand it to her. She gives me a melancholy smile and accepts my offering. “I love my parents, but I think they don’t always know who I am very well.” “There anything I can do?” She snaps off a piece of the twig, reaches over, and gently sets it upright in my hair. “Let me grow apple trees on your head so every time we hang out I can have free apples.” My entire body hums at her closeness and touch. The crackle I felt last night at the game is still present. I sit stone-still. “Anything you want.” I’ve never meant something more. Sometimes you don’t even realize you are ravenous until you start eating. Dr. Adkins’s story has identified that feeling I get when I read and write poetry: satiety. I didn’t know to call it a hunger until now. I think about my mama. Maybe the Oxys and fentanyl were her attempted cure for a nagging craving she was never able to identify. All she knew was what killed it for a while. While we talk, the room fills even more with the sumptuous smell of cooking. Alex’s kimchi fried rice adds to the aromatic symphony. We hear Desiree and Alex laughing and talking cheerily in the kitchen. Periodically, one will say something like Nice touch! or Never thought to do that! Words make me feel strong. They make me feel powerful and alive. They make me feel like I can open doors. If only heartbreak were truly what it claims to be, it might not be so bad. But here’s the thing—your heart never gets broken quite enough to stop wanting who broke it. When he recovers, he says, “Tell you what, Mickey Mouse. You find that right someone, and ever’ minute you spend with them is like a Hawaiian vacation. She’s out there. You’ll figure it out.” He’s never been to Hawaii. It feels like he’s bequeathing me an inheritance of the only wealth he possesses—his memories, his quiet joys. Dignity dies as the body does. He pulls off his oxygen mask, and it makes a rushing sound, like the advance of wind before a storm. “Tell you a story,” Papaw says in his pale whisper, barely audible above the noise of his mask, as he visibly summons himself from the gloaming. “You was just born. Your mama’s trailer weren’t fit for a baby, so we brought you both home from the hospital. Your mama slept in her old room. Your room.” He pauses to muster his strength and continues. “Your mamaw was wore out too. It was springtime, so I took you out on the porch and sat, just you and me, in the rocker. Had you wrapped up so tight you weren’t but a head poking out of a blanket.” He stops and gathers himself. “Watched you feel the breeze on your face for the first time. Watched you open your little gray eyes and squint out at the trees swaying in the wind. And I says to you, ‘That wind you feel on your face is called wind. Them trees you see are called trees.’ Holiest thing I ever witnessed—you feeling the wind for the first time. Seeing a tree for the first time. Speaking their names to you. Saw the face of God in you that day. Ever’ time you tell a story, it becomes a little more ordinary. So I swore I’d only tell this one the once.” He pauses once more, and with what remains of himself, says, “There was a last time I held you in my arms, and I didn’t even know it.” He finishes, spent by this effort. He murmurs something else, but I can’t make it out. Something Mickey Mouse. I wriggle closer to him and pull his arm over me. Let this be the last time you hold me in your arms. I slip his oxygen mask back on him. He drifts off, and I hold his hand until it goes limp and heavy. “I love you. I’ll always love you,” I whisper again and again to his unconscious ear, hoping he absorbs it somehow. Hoping he takes it with him to whatever unmapped land he’s journeying to. Hoping he returns. If only once more. I cried until I was empty—not of feeling but of tears. I wish our love was enough to keep whole the people we love. Some people can lift your heart up to the light, reading the truth of you written on it. I was afraid that being a man meant waging war on what’s beautiful. I wanted to love the world without taking anything from it. He knew all this. This is what you remember of the people you love when they’re gone—the ways they knew you that no one else did—even you. In that way, their passing is a death of a piece of yourself. I don’t know how I’ll do this. I barely managed when I was only cracked. Now I’m broken wide open. We ordinarily encourage sharing of rooms, to teach students compromise and conflict resolution and to forge lifelong friendships. But you have certainly earned the right to a solo room.” That sounds pretty great. “What’s the other option?” “One of your fellow students, who currently resides in a single room, has come forward and asked to be placed as your roommate if you so choose. I believe you know him. Alex Pak. An exceptional young man, from what I gather.” An ecstatic bloom spreads through me. “Yeah, I know Alex. He is pretty exceptional. Let’s go with that.” I’ll tell you the truest thing I know: You are not a creature of grief. You are not a congregation of wounds. You are not the sum of your losses. Your skin is not your scars. Your life is yours, and it can be new and wondrous. Remember that.” “Always.” “Goodbye for now, Cash.” “Goodbye for now, Dr. Adkins.” “My friends call me Bree.” “Bree?” She looks at me. “You said something at Thanksgiving I keep thinking about: that you didn’t inherit your mamaw’s gift for healing. But you did,” I say. I remember first seeing her across the room at that Narateen meeting. Now we’re gazing at the lights of New York City together. I wonder where I’d be at this moment, the smaller life I would have led if we’d never spoken. You can feel when your mind’s building a palace for a memory. A place it lives, glowing and dancing in marble halls. A place you can visit when you need to feel less of the world’s gravity. I feel my mind building such a palace for Delaney and me. Sometimes I imagine the two of us at an all-night diner, drawing faces on pancakes with ketchup, drunk on each other, and laughing like nothing beautiful ever dies. I’ll always love her. Every wound, every hurt that brought us together—I regret none of it. I once thought of memory as a tether. I still do, in a way. But now I also see memory as the roots from which you grow toward the sun. The dreams of closed doors still come, but less now. I sit with my notebook and pen in the wild light of the day’s end. In the place where I learned the names of trees and wind, I write.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer LaGarde

    I’ve been holding onto this recommendation until closer to its release date but the wait is over! Like all of Jeff Zentner’s books, In The Wild Light has a heart that beats in Tennessee. And although I’ve never lived in “the volunteer state,” I did call its neighbor to the east home for nearly 30 years - which may be part of the reason why I always feel as though I *know* the small towns that Zentner creates. I’ve been to places like Sawyer, Tennessee. But more importantly, I *know* the people w I’ve been holding onto this recommendation until closer to its release date but the wait is over! Like all of Jeff Zentner’s books, In The Wild Light has a heart that beats in Tennessee. And although I’ve never lived in “the volunteer state,” I did call its neighbor to the east home for nearly 30 years - which may be part of the reason why I always feel as though I *know* the small towns that Zentner creates. I’ve been to places like Sawyer, Tennessee. But more importantly, I *know* the people who live and love and sometimes die in there, too. For example, not only did I recognize pieces of Cash and Delaney: the two HS best friends that In The Wild Light swirls around, but I absolutely knew Cash’s papaw and mamaw - the grandparents who raised Cash after his mother died of a drug overdose and who nearly end up raising Delaney as her mother battles the same addiction. Like a lot of small, rural communities Sawyer, Tennessee is being devoured by drugs. The opioid crisis has swallowed both Cash and Delaney’s parents, and is threatening to destroy them as well, when suddenly, and remarkably, everything changes. Here’s where I should probably mention that while I definitely taught a lot of kids like Cash, (bright, thoughtful, and loyal HS boys who are fiercely devoted to doing what’s right, but who lack confidence in themselves), I’ve never taught anyone quite like Delaney Doyle who is a bonafide, mega IQ super genius. Not only does she have a photographic memory, but she’s also incredibly curious about the world, which is what inspires her and Cash to explore the caves dotting the river that cuts through their mountain community; it’s in one of those caves that Delaney discovers a new strain of penicillin mold that has the potential to change the world, but is absolutely about to change their lives. That change starts when Delaney is offered a full scholarship to a prestigious preparatory school in New Canaan, CT, which is thousands of miles (and about a million worlds!) away from Sawyer, Tennessee. The kicker though is that Delaney only agrees to go if Cash is offered the same deal, and while the school immediately agrees, it takes some convincing for Cash to decide it’s time to leave Sawyer: a place that has caused them both so much pain, but that is also the home of his beloved grandparents. It’s when Cash decides to take a chance on himself, that the story shifts from one about two special kids trying to escape the poison in their small town, to one about those same kids realizing that it’s what’s inside them - their gifts and their love - that will not only be the things that end up saving them, but that might actually save their small town, too. There’s something deeply earnest about In The Wild Light. We fall in love with Cash and Delaney not because they are lovable (although they are!) but because they need us to love them. Sawyer, Tennessee may be a pin in a fictional map, but its struggles and triumphs are very real. I’m excited for kids living in small, forgotten places like Sawyer to see themselves in this book.

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