Review: In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

In the Wild LightWhen Cash’s best friend Delaney discovers a new fungus that could help treat multiple diseases, she becomes the toast of the world. Receiving multiple offers to pursue her educational aspirations outside of their small East Tennessee town, Delaney makes a bargain with a prestigious private school for her and Cash to be a package deal.

The only thing holding Cash back is his dying Pawpaw. Pawpaw eventually convinces Cash to go and a whole new world opens up to him, including his discovery that he might be a poet (and not know it).

A new novel from Jeff Zentner is something to look forward to and In the Wild Light is no exception to the type of authentic, character-driven young-adult novels he’s written before. However, I have to admit that somehow In the Wild Light didn’t quite hit it out of the park in the ways some of his other books did.

It could be that part of it is because this novel feels a bit weightier than some of his other books. Cash’s struggle with his own self-worth and depression is well explored, though it does make for difficult reading in some passages — especially late in the novel as it feels Cash just can’t quite catch a break. And yet, in all the darkness, Zentner offers up a commentary on how the arts can help and their value. Cash’s discovery of poetry and his talent for writing it is one of the great threads in this novel and seeing Cash explore that part of himself is one of the best parts of this book.

>In the Wild Light includes some Easter eggs to previous works from Zentner. I’m sure I saw many of them but missed a few more along the way, but it’s that extra bit of world-building that was appreciated by this reader.

In the Wild Light is a great read. It has some beautifully realized passages that I had to just re-read to appreciate the beauty of the language. But, it could be that Zentner has set too high a bar in his previous works that no new book could quite exceed. This one comes close but just feels a bit off in the final analysis. But that still makes it one of the shining highlights of the young-adult genre and a book that’s definitely worth your time and attention.

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Filed under book review, review, young adult

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