Review: In The Wild Light is a ‘hauntingly beautful’ read

Megan Shafar, Staff Reporter

Jeff Zentner’s latest book “In the Wild Light” is a beautifully told story of grief, love and the healing power of poetry. 

Sixteen-year-old Cash lives with his grandparents in a small town in Tennessee. His Papaw’s emphysema is worsening, meaning his lungs are failing. 

His best friend Delaney earns a full scholarship to a prestigious high school in Connecticut after discovering an antibacterial mold species in a cave. Not wanting to leave Cash, she tells the school she’ll only attend if they give him a scholarship, too.

Now Cash must weigh his options, knowing that if he goes, he’ll struggle with guilt at leaving his sick grandfather behind, worries he won’t keep up academically, and homesickness.

Deciding whether or not to go with Delaney is only the beginning of Cash’s journey, and I thought the pace of the story felt right. What stood out to me were the vividly-written characters. Every detail, such as Delaney’s nervous habit of chewing her fingers, vibrantly developed the characters as authentic and multifaceted. 

Even in the darkness of the plot, I loved how much the characters lifted each other up. I loved Cash’s poetry teacher’s spunk and spark and how fiercely she believed in Cash. The epitome of a great teacher, she added much needed hope to the story.

That hope came from other sources, too, and I liked how Zentner gave Cash waves of support in various forms. Without revealing too many spoilers, I will say that the development of Cash’s interests and the strengthening of his connections to the people around him brightened the progression of the story. 

Another of my favorite elements was the writing style because of the beautiful, poetic sentences and dialogue. Zentner gorgeously crafts sentences and arranges words that pack emotional punch. This novel speaks to loss, love and home with a voice people can appreciate. If you’re someone who likes quotes, you’ll find some lovely ones in this book.

However, I thought Cash’s poems were a little out of place because there were so few of them sprinkled in sporadically. I actually thought the prose was stronger than the poems themselves, but as a whole, the language illuminated the story.

If you enjoyed Zentner’s other books, I think you’ll find this one just as beautiful, if not more. Personally, I have also read two of his other books: “Goodbye Days” and “The Serpent King,” and while I thought all three of these books were written poetically, “In the Wild Light” had the most vivid character development.

The ending felt a little too predictable because what happened was something I definitely saw coming. Still, I finished the book feeling like the characters and story would stay with me for a long time. To me, the difference between a good book and a great book is that the latter will stay with you even long after you’ve finished it. I give “In the Wild Light” high marks, as I continue to think about its hauntingly beautiful portrayal of love and loss.