In the Wild Light

Crown. Aug. 2021. 432p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524720247.
Gr 9 Up–Cash Pruitt loves the simple beauty of his rural Tennessee hometown, boating on the Pigeon River, and his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw, who raised him after his mother died of an overdose. He also loves the complex mind of his best friend Delaney Doyle, a science genius whose boundless knowledge of the natural world fills him with wonder. Both children of an opioid-addicted parent, Delaney and Cash have a deep bond that is shaken for the first time when Delaney’s scientific discovery catapults her to overnight fame. This discovery—a mold with powerful antibiotic properties, found with Cash in a riverfront cave—lands them both scholarships at prestigious Middleford Academy in New Canaan, Connecticut. Cash worries that Papaw, who has emphysema, will die while he is away at school, but accepts the scholarship at Papaw’s urging. At Middleford, he is buoyed by a poetry class that shows him the power of language to reshape experiences of pain and fear into beauty. Lyrical and heartbreaking, this novel captures the wonder of ordinary moments with extraordinary tenderness. As in Zentner’s earlier works, grief is a central theme explored in many forms, ranging from the trauma of Cash’s mother’s death to the anticipatory sense of loss Cash feels at leaving a sick family member to chase a dream that scares him. A rich sense of place runs through the novel. Cash and Delaney are white; supporting characters are Brazilian and Korean American.
VERDICT A wise, gorgeous exploration of loss and survival that will make readers cry. A first purchase.

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