IN THE WILD LIGHT by Jeff Zentner

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Cash doesn’t know how to explain his friendship with Delaney. In fact, there’s not much about Delaney he can explain. She’s brilliant, obviously. Not every high school junior has discovered an antibacterial mold that can kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And he understands the struggles she experiences at home, trying to take care of her junkie mother. Cash’s own mother ODed when he was still a kid, a story that’s too common in their small Tennessee town. But Cash’s Mamaw and Papaw have always been there–for him and for Delaney.

When Delaney gets offered a scholarship spot at an elite boarding school in Connecticut–and insists that the same offer be extended to Cash–his grandparents encourage him to take advantage of the opportunity, one that they could never have afforded to give him. Cash is devastated to leave his grandparents behind, especially since Papaw’s emphysema has been getting worse, and after a few weeks surrounded by geniuses and his entitled bigot of a roommate, Cash is ready to quit and head back home. But when he unexpectedly connect with a poetry class, Cash finds a path to self-expression he never imagined, and as new friendships blossom, he suddenly finds himself caught between the home he’s always known and the home he’s building on his own.

This beautiful and poetic story moves from heart-wrenching to heart-warming in organic swells, and the emotion stayed with me long after I closed the book. In addition to the less-often depicted Appalachian community, it stood out from other YA novels I’ve read lately in that instead of trying to establish his identity as independent from his parents, this protagonist is trying to remain connected to his family and true to his heritage when circumstances pull them apart. Ultimately, Cash’s journey is toward learning what his grandparents and Delaney have been trying to tell him all along–that he is just as remarkable as she. I highly recommend this novel to fans of YA Contemporary fiction.

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