November 23, 2021

In The Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

In the Wild Light

Jeff Zentner centers his stories on the Appalachians and East Tennessee. This one really brought out the culture of the area in the speech of the characters, the food they ate, as well as the less desirable aspect of the drug use prevalent in the area. Our main character, Cash (as in Johnny), has nightmares about the night he couldn't get the bathroom door open because his mother's body was blocking it. She has overdosed on Fentanyl and Meth. He met his best friend at narateen. Delaney's mom is still alive, but is pretty well absent. Cash lives with his Mamaw who is a manager at Little Caesar's, and his Papaw who is on disability from his emphysema.

At the beginning of the story, Delaney has found a mold in a cave near their town that has antibiotic properties and can kill even superbugs that are resistant against other antibiotic. She shows it to an epidemiology professor and it gets named after Delaney. She gets a scholarship to a high performance boarding school in Connecticut, but she won't go unless Cash goes with her. Cash is hesitant because he doesn't want to leave his Papaw and maybe never see him alive again. Papaw and Mamaw make him go, though, and they take a Greyhound to Middleford Academy.

Cash's roommate is a consummate asshat, but Delaney's roommate is a beautiful Brazilian girl who is rich, but not stuck up. Cash finds his place on the crew team, while Delaney gets down to work in the science labs. Cash also finds acceptance in his Inro to Poetry class with a world renowned poet. She really digs deep and helps him see the words within the country boy.

It wouldn't be contemporary YA if there weren't several hurdles to jump. In the end, Cash saves a female student from an episode of rape and finds out that even if he isn't the smartest kid around, he is worthwhile and deserves what has been given to him.

My favorite Zentner book is still Rayne and Delilah's Midnite Matinee (which is mentioned repeatedly in this book), but this one is probably second. They way he wrote the grandparents' speech patterns was poetry in itself. I really enjoyed the way the kids interacted and the adults who really came through for them when it mattered.