Being a teenager is difficult. Being a teenager trying to start over is double hard. Willa Kirk is only 18 years old but is trying to restart her life in her old hometown in the middle of her senior year at high school. Jem Harper is trying to deal with the stigma of being known as the "cancer guy." All he wants is to get better and get through the school year. These two teens are the heart and soul of Wake by Abria Mattina.
There's some typical teenage angst in Wake but not much of it is because of Willa or Jem. These two start with an antagonistic relationship that quickly develops into an antagonistic friendship. They are both outsiders trying to strike a balance with their families and school. Jem is recovering from cancer treatment and a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately the cancer is in remission, unfortunately all of the medications he's on cause him to continually suffer from extreme nausea. His diet is limited to soup, Jell-O, and smoothies and he often has difficulties with these items. Jem has had a truly rough year. His family relocated from Ottawa to Smiths Falls (a small town) and he was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the move. His entire persona in this new town is as the "cancer guy." His friends from his hometown aren't quite sure how to deal with his diagnosis but they're too far away to be a support system.
Willa's situation is somewhat similar to Jem's in that she is also dealing with being the new kid without really being the new kid. She grew up in Smiths Falls but her family had moved out of the province. Now she's dealing with the death of her older sister, Tessa, and some bad decisions that resulted in a brief psychiatric hospitalization. Her parents can’t quite deal with her problems since they came so quickly after Tessa's death, so she's shipped off to stay with her older brother Frank.
Much of the story takes place over the course of six months and is told in alternating voices by Jem and Willa. The same time periods are presented in alternating perspectives which add to our understanding of Jem and Willa. The reader is allowed to see the development from both points of view and provides a better understanding of both characters. There are also a few chapters told from the perspective of Jem's sister Elise and brother Eric toward the end, along with one chapter by Frank early in the book and these provide additional insight into the action within the story.
Wake is filled with secrets revealed, self-acceptance and love. Jem is fortunate that he has unconditional love and support from his family but he still needs to be seen as an individual that has something to offer. Willa doesn't really have the support of her family although her brother Frank is trying. She is dealing with a lot of guilt over her past actions and wants to be accepted for who she is, warts and all. There's a lot going on in Wake and Ms. Mattina does a fantastic job at providing the reader with the information necessary to see the big picture. I didn't like this story initially as I couldn't really see, or appreciate, where it was going, but by the time I was a little more than one-third of the through I was hooked. I wanted to see what was going to happen, if anything, between Jem and Willa. This isn't a traditional YA coming-of-age story nor is it a traditional teen love story; it is a little of both and so much more.
Disclaimer: I received this book free for review purposes. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."