Hilary T. Smith’s absorbing debut whispers with mystery, drawing us into a world of dead sisters, family secrets, midnight bicycle rides, music, madness and artultimately exploring that most profound mystery of all: love.
Debut author Smith can craft a simile like no one’s business, and her ebullient language drives this story, which captures moments of life at its highest and blurriest points: love, loss, music, freedom.
Most fascinating in this stirring coming-of-age novel are the blurred lines between perception and reality, genius and madness, peace and turmoil. Debut author Smith embraces the complexities of grief, family dynamics, creativity, mental illness, and love and pens them with a thoughtful, subtle hand.
Kiri Byrd’s plan for the six weeks her parents are away involves practicing for the upcoming International Young Pianists’ Showcase, practicing some more, and then practicing with Lukas, her bandmate and crush, for their Battle of the Bands gig. She isn’t worried about being home alone: she’s 17, she’s responsible, and she’s got a schedule. But when someone calls to ask if Kiri will come pick up her dead sister’s belongings, things change in unexpected ways. Kiri’s life picks up speed and gets frighteningly close to flying out of control as she bikes to the rough side of Vancouver; meets Skunk, a musician and bicycle repairer; and finds out exactly how her sister, a troubled artist, died. In her YA debut, Smith (Welcome to the Jungle) handles Kiri’s grief and joy well, then takes these emotions and amps them up. When people around Kiri—including Skunk, who has his own mental health problems—and Kiri herself begin to think that she “might be having a Thing,” it’s believable, worrying, and relatable. Ages 14–up. Agent: Laura Rennert, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (June)
Gr 8 Up—Ever since Kiri Byrd was 12, the only thing she had known about the death of her beloved, yet troubled older sister was that it was accidental. Her parents hadn't even let her go to Sukey's funeral and they certainly never wanted her to talk about her feelings. And so rather than grieve for her sister properly, Kiri threw herself into playing piano. She was the dutiful daughter, causing her parents no unnecessary stress or disharmony. But five years later, Kiri still isn't okay. When her parents leave her alone for six weeks to take an anniversary vacation, Kiri doesn't realize just how much her sister's death has affected her until she receives a mysterious phone call. She discovers that Sukey was murdered. Unsupervised and vulnerable, she quickly spirals out of control-smoking pot, practicing piano for days without sleep-as she learns exactly what happened to the sister she idolized. In this exquisite debut novel, Smith adeptly captures the darkness and betrayal of a family secret. Kiri's narrative is heart-wrenching as she confronts her grief and acts out her frustration at her parents for not only lying to her all these years, but also for abandoning her when she needs them most. The story is beautifully written and engaging, and Kiri's voice is a powerful reminder that life can be full of pain and joy and that to embrace both is good for the soul.—Kimberly Garnick Giarratano, Rockaway Township Public Library, NJ
A young woman spirals into mania after hearing the truth about her sister's death in this flawed but heady debut. While her parents are on a six-week anniversary cruise, 17-year-old piano prodigy Kiri is responsible for watering the azaleas and practicing daily for the upcoming International Young Pianists' Showcase. But when a stranger calls claiming to have information about her deceased sister, Kiri abandons her disciplined routines and sets out to discover the truth about Sukey, since "[w]hen she died, it was like my house burned down." After learning Sukey was murdered, not killed in an accident as she had been led to believe, Kiri eschews sleep, takes drugs, goes on midnight bike rides, wins a battle of the bands and falls in love with a formerly paranoid-schizophrenic musician. Each questionable action brings her closer to closure over Sukey's death, but will she survive the summer? Though the secondary characterizations are sometimes sketchy, and the plot has some holes (would Kiri's strict parents really leave her alone for six weeks? Is Kiri suffering from delayed grief or true mania?), Smith's exuberant use of language helps gloss over them. Similes such as "[t]he piano is like a sleek black submarine that carries me deep, deep down, until the surface world is nothing but a muffled shimmer" sing off every page. Beautiful and energetic, if jumbled; Smith's a writer to watch. (Fiction. 14 & up)