Appalachian Grief and Beauty in a YA Novel | In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner [REVIEW]

Appalachian Grief and Beauty in a YA Novel | In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner [REVIEW]

CW: SA, Addiction, Overdose

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 Goodreads].

I found this book while searching for titles for a Collection Development course project. It was on YALSA’s list of best teen fiction. I haven’t been reading too much YA recently, but the Appalachian setting is one I don’t see very often, and had to pick this one up. I listened to the audiobook of this one which I highly enjoyed.

This novel was such a beautiful representation of growing up in Appalachia. Zentner does a really great job of capturing the wonder of the setting’s nature along with the more tragic side. The first part of the novel might have been my favorite with all the scenery descriptions of the region.

Delaney’s and Cash’s characters were so wonderfully written with little quirks and insecurities. They felt so real to what my experience of teendom was. The way Cash’s grief in dealing with losing a grandparent really spoke to me, too. It was so accurate and so well done.

The only thing I took issue with [minor spoiler ahead] was the presence of SA to further Cash’s development in the story. I think it was mostly there to deal with Cash’s gross roommate, but I think it could have been handled in a different way. I just don’t really like the use of SA of a girl as a plot device, especially when written by men.

Aside from that, I really loved this story and was just overyjoyed by the setting, the characters, everything. Also, anything with girls in STEM is a win for me.

Highly recommend if you’re looking for a YA contemporary novel with so much heart.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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