In a small town in Appalachia, Cash lost his mother to the opioid crisis. His best friend, Delaney, has a mother who seems to be losing the opioid battle. She doesn’t care about her daughter. But the two teenagers met at a Narateen reunion and became immediate friends in Jeff Zentner’s “In the Wild Light” (Crown 2021).
Thank goodness for Cash’s grandparents, Papaw and Mamaw, who love them both. Delaney is no ordinary girl. She is sued by the press for discovering a mold in a cave that acts as a powerful penicillin. She credits Cash as the co-discoverer, but he knows he only took her to the cave in a canoe.
He likes the undergrowth. And he loves his grandparents. Unfortunately, Papaw suffers from emphysema and is kept alive on an oxygen tank. Mamaw is a manager of a Caesar’s Pizza and brings home a pizza every night for their dinner. These people live day to day.
Delaney is offered a scholarship to an expensive STEM high school, Middleford, Connecticut, but how can she go it alone? It’s too intimidating. Even in Sawyer, Tennessee, she is unsuitable. This Ivy League prep school would be impossible. But she receives a scholarship offer for herself and for Cash as a co-discoverer. But how can Cash leave his failing Papaw?
Papaw and Mamaw urge Cash to go to school in Connecticut, as do his aunts, Betsy and Mitzi. They want a better life for their orphan boy.
He did well in school in Tennessee, but he knows he doesn’t live up to Ivy League standards. Delaney, however, is a genius, and this is his chance.
It takes a lot of chapters to get the two out of Tennessee, but the reader knows it will happen. And yes, it’s tough in Middleford, socially. Delaney excels, the teenagers find two empathetic friends, and Cash finds poetry.
Her poetry teacher, who also happens to be from Appalachia, tells her, “Every wound, every heartbreak, every scar has brought you here. Poetry allows us to turn pain into fire to warm us up. Go make a fire.
Writing poetry, which is all new to him, helps Cash through the nerve-wracking events of his young life and gives him direction. Just like Alex and Vi, their new friends. It is the story of a new sweet love, overcoming devastating difficulties, heartbreak and the search for self and family.
Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award-winning titles “Josephine”, “Loving vs Virginia” and “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”, among others. She teaches community classes at Parkland College. Learn more at talesforallages.com.