‘In the Wild Light’ – Jeff Zentner

In the Wild Light is a book that I’m going to have to recommend with caution. I imagine anyone who picks it up will enjoy it, but this book – in the right hands – has the capacity to break someone time and time again, before slotting the broken bits back together and forging something new. Yes, this is going to be a book that I know I’ll read again (and that doesn’t happen often), will find ways to use excerpts from in class and will always wish I could recapture the feelings I had as I read it for the first time.

Our main characters, Cash and Delaney, come from a small town called Sawyer in Tennessee. Cash lives with his grandparents after the overdose of his mother, and Delaney’s mother seems to be heading the same way. Cash’s grandfather is dying of emphysema, and the pair of them are coming under pressure from a local dealer to get involved in things they’d rather avoid. At the start of the book I was convinced this would be bleak reading.

We are told early on that Delaney has made an important scientific discovery. How big a thing this is doesn’t become obvious until we’re told that she has an exclusive prep school offering both her and Cash full scholarships to study there. Though they have reservations about leaving at such a time, they are encouraged to break out of their home environment and take a risk.

The opportunity to study at such an establishment cannot be ignored. It changes them both in ways they could never have foreseen, but it also allows them to reflect on what they have come from and what is important to each of them.

There were so many passages and moments within the book that I loved that it’s hard to focus on specifics. The friendship between Delaney and Cash is at the heart of the book, but they would not be where they are without the support of Cash’s grandparents. The professor who fosters Cash’s ability to write was inspiring, and each of the students Cash and Delaney find themselves befriending had something about them. The story is quite simple, but the way in which is written is achingly beautiful. Though I was expecting some of the bleak moments, there were more…but, at its core, there was a strong sense of hope that cannot be ignored.

Jeff Zentner has created a story that goes beyond the boundaries of the page. It’s a love story, testimony to the power of friendship, family and environment. It’s a story that cannot be forgotten.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to read this in advance of its August release.