Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
Published: 2012, Delacorte PressGenre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Library book
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"See, wanderlust is like itchy feet," Starling explains. "It’s when you can’t settle down. But Wanderlove is much deeper than that...it’s a compulsion. It’s the difference between lust and love."
I'll be the first to admit that my preferences for YA contemporaries are rather unconventional. I dislike both the overly humorous ones and the issue-driven stories, but of course I have exceptions to those rules. In general, however, I tend to pass by contemporary books so that I can read something a little more different from life as I know it. But I do tend to listen to others' reviews, and I am so glad that I allowed myself to experience Bria's journey in Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard.
Like most recent high school graduates in the summer before college, Bria Sandoval isn't quite sure what she wants out of her life. She and her artist boyfriend Toby had planned on going to the Californian art school SCAA together in the fall. But that was before he revealed that he was instead going to attend college in Chicago, before he dumped her. In the wake of her harsh new reality, Bria has allowed the opportunity to study at SCAA pass her by, and may even have ruined her chances of attending local state school, so when she finds a pamphlet asking "Are You a Global Vagabond," courtesy of the Global Vagabonds organization, Bria realizes what she really needs is to escape her California town for the summer with her two best friends.
Even after both her friends back out of the trip, Bria needs to leave her town and rediscover herself. Alone but determined to take this one trip for herself, Bria travels to Guatemala. She isn't in Guatemala for long, however, before she realizes that a trip with middle-aged tourists isn't quite what she had in mind when asked to be a global vagabond. After meeting half-siblings Starling and Rowan at a backpacker hostel, Bria realizes that simply being in Guatemala is not enough; by abandoning her tour group and traveling as a true backpacker, Bria can finally embrace the unexpected.
Besides the knowledge that basically every review that I've read of this book is overwhelmingly positive, what really drew me to this book was that Bria's trip takes place in Central America. I've mentioned it before and I'll mention it again: any book with a focus on Hispanic culture or countries is going to pique my interest. One of the locations that Bria's group travels to on La Ruta Maya is Copán, Mayan ruins found in Honduras. Although Bria herself never makes it to Copán, having traveled to Honduras myself and studied Hispanic and Latin American culture gave me the initial push I needed to become invested in this story.
Bria is such an easy protagonist to relate to. To some degree, the vast majority of people experience existential crises and uncertainty in the time period between high school and college. Going to college is a big deal. It can be exciting, of course, but it's also the place where you start to figure out what you want to spend the rest of your life doing. Bria is one of those fortunate enough to have found her passion early in life, but, through a series of circumstances mostly related to her relationship with Toby, Bria loses focus of her artist dreams. She allows an incredibly prestigious scholarship to slip through her fingers and cannot find the desire to draw any more. Although she prefers to be in control of her life and choices, Bria is cognizant enough to realize that a break from her expected, traditional life is the main thing that can help her find her sense of purpose once more. Over the course of Wanderlove, Bria may undergo a fairly typical transformation from an uncertain, lost teen to one who feels more empowered and more certain of herself (rather than reliant on the thoughts of others), but that does not make the end result any less satisfying.
I loved all the information that Hubbard provides about backpacking culture and life. It's so far removed from the my life that I found it fascinating to learn that people could live in such a rustic way. Between Rowan's and Starling's characterizations, among others, readers are privy to some different reasons for and viewpoints of those who choose such a lifestyle. It's not an easy one, but, through Bria's experiences with Rowan and Starling, readers can begin to appreciate the benefits and rewards of such a life.
Overall I thought the slow-burn romance between Bria and Rowan is well done. Hubbard carefully avoids the well-trodden and cliche path of her protagonist using a boy as the means to freedom and self-discovery. There are a few subtle hints of romance early on, but the vast majority of the novel really is about Bria coming to terms with her past and figuring out how to love herself and her dreams once again. Rowan is there for after Bria figures herself out, but not before then.
In addition to the overarching storyline, the little touches really helped bring Wanderlove to life. Bria's notebook entries: learning how Bria experiences life through her thoughts versus her writing versus what she tells others is interesting. And of course I have to mention Bria's sketches (I read that the author actually made those drawings herself!). I loved Bria's whimsical drawing style. All these elements definitely worked to draw me in to the many aspects involved in Bria's road to self-discovery.
I'd like to say that Bria's journey has awakened in me a desire to travel, explore the world and find myself. But it hasn't, not really. Not at this point in my life. I will keep her story in mind, however, if in my life things ever do spiral out of control. Wanderlove is a heartwarming story about a teen's journey, both physical and emotional, to find herself and regain a sense of purpose in her life. Even if you have no desire to travel, are uninterested in art, or do not think this is the type of book you'd enjoy, I encourage you to give this book a shot anyway. See if you can read it without feeling a sense of wonder and contentment about the world around you.