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Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review: Wanderlove

Welcome readers. Pull up a chair. Grab a cup of coffee (or tequila—we won’t judge). And let’s talk books.

This month, we’re discussing Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard. For those of you who haven’t yet read the book, here’s a blurb from Goodreads:
It all begins with a stupid question: Are you a Global Vagabond?  
No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path. 
Bria’s a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan’s a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they’ve got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward. But Bria comes to realize she can’t run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back. 
I am, at the current moment, fighting the urge to stop writing this review, pack a few necessities into my backpack, and hop the first flight to Central America. I’d like to say my obligations to this blog are holding me back, but let’s be honest: I’m just broke.

I’m blaming my obsession with Central America (see Article 1, Section A: “Google image search history”) on Kirsten Hubbard and her book Wanderlove. I mentioned this before, but my favorite part of the book was the feeling of wanderlust it gave me. The locations in the book were so vividly described that I can still picture them when I shut my eyes.

Of course, setting is Hubbard’s domain, and not just because she’s a travel writer. Here, she paints a picture of each place for us—and not only the image a reader may have in mind—and even though her descriptions are pretty detailed they don’t slow the story down. Case in point:
“We’re standing on the beach with our backpacks on, facing the ocean. A faint drizzle—what my dad calls a Scottish mist—makes the gray sea and sky bleed together like wet-on-wet watercolor. Even the waves seem sluggish, heaving toward shore. ‘So this is the Caribbean?’ I ask.”
That wasn’t my first experience with the Caribbean (I can’t be positive, but I think there was a lot of sun and turquoise water involved), but it’s unexpected and refreshing. Though Wanderlove can be seen as a love letter to Travel, the book doesn’t pretend all expeditions are rainbows and sunny skies.

I’ll be honest: I love traveling so much that I probably would have liked this book even if the characters were ho-hum and the romance was all yawn and the plot was been there, done that. Seriously.

But good news, the characters are pretty awesome. My favorite: Sonia, a side character who totally stole the show in her scenes.

Bria is probably the first completely average (and when I say average I mean average, not average-hiding-secret-abilities or average-but-really-not) YA character I’ve read and really, really loved. She’s self-conscious and shy, doubts her abilities as an artist even though others see her talent, and is cautious above all. Teen Tracey totally relates.

Bria’s struggle to find her identity is at the heart of the novel. Is she someone who belongs on a safe-yet-predictable group tour with a bunch of middle-aged people? Is she the kind of person who could backpack with strangers around Central America? So much of Wanderlove was Bria figuring out who she was through travel and through her relationships.

Which brings me to … the romance. One of the main complaints a lot of people have with YA romances today is this instalove factor. Characters meet. Bat eyelashes. Fall in love. You won’t find that in Wanderlove. The romance between Bria and Rowan is slow-building and realistic, especially since both are running from something big.

And that’s what I found so appealing about Wanderlove. Bria doesn’t unload her problems onto Rowan the minute he looks at her twice. In the same way, Rowan keeps his problems closed-off from Bria for much of the book. It’s an issue of trust, and a believable one at that. I know I wouldn’t go spilling my problems to some boy I just met, not even if he looked like this:


It’s a long process, trusting someone you’ve just met, and Hubbard handles that expertly, stitching it into the relationship so it builds and builds before the characters openly show they’re interested in one another.

Also believable: The awkwardness between Bria and Rowan at first. Imagine you’re traveling with someone you met 24 hours ago. You might be able to banter a bit, but you’ll probably have some lulls in conversation, too. The fact that Bria and Rowan’s relationship was peppered with those in the beginning rang so true for me. Here, see:
“For a moment, we seem to run out of things to say. The jungle is so loud I can almost sift the sound waves through my fingers, but it’s better than the gracelessness of total silence.”
(Oh, did I forget to mention the gorgeous prose?)

On a whole, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book. For some reason, I had imagined it as a lighter travel novel, and while it’s definitely a travel book it’s really a story about identity—who we are, who we want to become, and how our actions and relationships shape us. There’s no fluff, but real questions that ask you, the reader, to examine yourself.
“ ‘Anyway, so many American luxuries are just that—luxuries,’ Starling continues. ‘You don’t need them. They drag you down, and not just physically.’ ”
And did I mention there’s a cute boy? And art Hubbard sketched herself? Yup, cool.

Speaking of cool …. Kirsten Hubbard was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions about her book, her travels, and her travel philosophy (hint: it’s not the same as Rowan’s) for me. Check back Monday for the interview.

Also, look for a really cool video chat with Kirsten Hubbard in April on YA Highway.

What did you think of the book? Write your thoughts in the comments below, and link to your blog review below.

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