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Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. 2012. Review copy from publisher.
The Plot: What better way to reinvent oneself than travel? Bria Sandoval, 18, does just that, following a bad break up and disappointing college decisions. Carefree travel, seeing new places, meeting new people — heck, maybe she’ll even follow her friends’ advice and pursue a random, no-emotions-invested hookup with some cute guy who means nothing.
Perhaps all you need to know about Bria’s personality is that the way she implements her plan is by signing up for a guided tour.
Yes. An eighteen year old on a guided tour of South America.
I don’t have to tell you that she’s the youngest person, by far, on the tour — the brochure of young, smiling people lied. So now Bria is stuck, stuck on the tour much like she was stuck in her old life. Wishing for something different, wishing to be as carefree as the grungy backpackers she sees.
When Bria meets Starling and Rowan, two backpackers who invite her along on their journey, Bria decides to leave the safe, organized, structured tour and take a chance: a chance on traveling, a chance on life, a chance on friendship with two strangers, but, most important, a chance on herself.
The Good: I defy you to read this book and not want to immediately head out for the airport and go somewhere, anywhere, just go.
I have never been to the places Bria, Starling, and Rowan go to: Guatemala and Belize. Thanks to Wanderlove, I feel like I’ve been there and I also want to go, to see for myself the places Bria sees, to try the food she tries. Wanderlove is a love letter to those places. It is also a love letter to the spirit of traveling, to having all your belongings in one backpack and going where the day takes you, to a certain way of traveling. One of the best things about it, is it does so in an inclusive way. Oh, yes, Bria looks at these backpackers as free and cool and wonderful, and, well, idealizes them. As time goes on, she starts to see them as people; real people, with flaws.
Bria is not punished for her choices; and oh, I loved that so. much. The plot device of a teen girl being punished for seeking freedom (here, backpacking in Guatemala and Belize) by being assaulted, raped, or imprisoned is one that is all too often seen in books or film. Sorry if I just spoiled this for you, but Bria’s journey does not end up dark. Wanderlove isn’t glib or naive about the dangers of traveling; Bria’s camera gets stolen, for example. But it doesn’t over-emphasize such risks to the extent that the inadvertent message becomes, “stay home and be safe.” The message, if any, is “travel and be safe.”
Starling and Rowan become Bria’s travel mentors: what to do or not to do when traveling. (Letting your bag out of your sight? A “not to do.”) Rowan is about two years older than Bria, Starling a couple years older than that, and the two are experienced backpackers. They pass along their wisdom and experience to Bria, just like someone did with them when they started out. Bria is a “good girl” trying to break out of that mold and be “bad”; while Rowan is a bad boy, trying to resist the temptations that got him into trouble. I loved these two, all the more so because both are fully drawn. Bria imagines a life and past for both of them, part of her romanticizing of them and backpacking, and I love when she learns the reality to their lives and their relationship with each other.
Part of what Bria is running from is a bad boyfriend and distant parents. Bria is telling the story, and I have to say, I’m not sure what the true story is about her parents. What I like is that Bria herself begins to realize that how she sees things may not always be quite right.
Oh, and the bad boyfriend. Let me rant for a second. He’s the classic Nice Guy Who Is Bad. He doesn’t hit her, but the emotional games he plays with her — ARGH. I HATE men like that, especially because (like with Bria) the people around him think “oh, he’s such a Nice Guy.” Rowan may be a “Bad Boy” in that he made a few poor life choices, but he doesn’t play mind games. To me? That’s a nice guy, not whether or not someone lives in a perfect house with a good family and gets into a nice school and says “please” and “thank you” to parents.
Funny, but all this and I haven’t mentioned the art! Bria is, well, was, an artist. Yes, it has to do with the ex. No, it’s not what you think. Well, maybe it is; I guess it depends on how well you know those types of guys. Wanderlove is about Bria rediscovering her love for art, and as she does so, she shares her art with the reader. I love it!
More not to be spoilery but I have to say it: Rowan and Starling both have strong personalities. So strong, that given Bria’s personality, I wondered whether the book would be about Bria finding herself or finding a version of herself shaped by Rowan and Starling. Rest assured, that does not happen, and instead Bria decides, for herself, who she is and what she wants to be — not what boyfriends, parents, or friends want.
One last part: much as I was swept away by the backpacking method of traveling, I know that is not for me. Even when I was younger and did some traveling, I was never quite as carefree as the Rowans and Starlings of the world. In part, my own temperament: I just cannot imagine not being traditionally employed, with health benefits, for such a time period. Another reason? I need clean bathrooms. No, really. There is, of course, a happy medium between a sanitized tour and the way Rowan, Starling, and Bria travel. I’d like to think, from the way the story progresses, that they wouldn’t judge me too much!
Because Wanderlove let me live an experience I will never, ever, have in real life. Because Bria is a passive teen who takes charge of her life. Because Bria isn’t punished for becoming a doer. Because I half-fell in love with Rowan, even though I’m so over sensitive Mr PonyTail men. Because I want to embrace, a bit more, that Wanderlove philosophy, even if my traveling is to North Carolina for a family vacation. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.
The wanderlove website, which has some gorgeous photos of “the places that stick in your heart.” From the website: “wanderlove is about celebrating our favorite places, and experiencing each other’s. take a photo, or find a photo (one you’ve taken yourself & have the rights to) of your favorite place. it could be a place you’ve traveled to, long ago or recently; a special spot in your neighborhood, city or town; or even in your house or backyard. be as creative as you want. include a few sentences about why the place is special to you – why you *get* it, why it sticks in your heart.”
Other reviews: Stacked Books; Sophistikatied Reviews; I Like These Books (guest post by author).
Filed under: Favorite Books Read in 2012, Reviews
About Elizabeth Burns
Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is email@example.com.
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