I think to a lot of people, reading is a chore – it’s something you have to do to graduate high school, get your diploma, suffer through college, and eventually use in life. I think to others, reading is a form of entertainment – a funny comedy to give them a good laugh, a serious biography to inform them about a subject they didn’t know, an intriguing encyclopedia filled with facts they could not have found out about any other way. However, I think if you ask any true bibliophile, like myself, we’ll say that yes, reading is an escape into another world – one that isn’t our own; yes, reading textbooks and badly written novels can be a chore; yes, all of that which other readers feel, think, and experience is true. Yet, to us, reading is about connecting with characters, about finding kindred spirits in words and phrases, about learning the lessons life can teach us, and most importantly, about finding small bits and pieces of our souls within the pages of the novels we read like starved children.
Wanderlove is the type of book that makes me so grateful I am a reader. It’s the sort of story that sucks you in, pulls on the strings in your heart, and makes you find yourself within its pages. It makes you connect to its characters, marvel at its exotic setting, learn from its valuable lessons, and most importantly, it makes you feel one with the very soul of the novel itself. I can count on one hand the number of books that have made me feel this way, but perhaps now, I will need two.
Wanderlove is unlike any contemporary romance I’ve read before and frankly speaking, all I feel like doing right now is taking the next flight to Guatemala and re-reading this book the entire plane ride there. I don’t think I can put into words just how much I loved this story, how much it affected me, and how badly I wish I could lose myself in its pages forever. In many ways, I wish this book wasn’t marketed as a contemporary romance novel, because although its love story is earth-shatteringly sweet and slow-to-build in a way wholly unique, this is primarily a novel about moving on from the past, understanding it, and not letting it get in the way of your future.
Eighteen-year-old Bria Sandoval is an artist who has forgotten how to make art. Ever since her break-up with her artistic boyfriend Toby, Bria has been lost, alone, and artless. Her parents are too busy fighting their own wars with each other, her best friends are too tired of her constant moping, choosing instead to give her unhelpful advice and ditch her on their plans to spend the summer in Europe, and all in all, Bria simply needs to get away. Thus, she finds herself sporadically signing up for a trip to Central America on a guided tour through “Global Vagabond.” What she finds upon landing in Guatemala though, is a rag-tag group of middle-age tourists. Bria wants to be a backpacker, exploring the true wilderness and culture of Central America, so when experienced backpacker half-siblings Starling and Rowan offer her a chance to accompany them, she cannot resist. Yet, backpacking through Central America is not as easy as it seems and soon, Bria finds that her honesty, trust, and confidence are all put to the test as she must learn to understand – and forgive – her past and make the most of what today has to offer.
In a very loose manner, Wanderlove is much like many other contemporary novels which seek to expose a journey of life through a road-trip or exploration of a foreign country. Yet, what makes Wanderlove stand out from this plethora of travelling stories is its unique, alluring, and refreshing voice. Bria is one of the few protagonists whose voice I can claim to truly admire and relate to. The narration of her story is honest, humorous, and intelligent, filled with beautiful sketches, memorable diary entries, and quirky lists which are all done to a minimum and only used to further develop Bria’s tale.
One of my favorite aspects of Hubbard’s writing is the fact that Bria’s story unfolds slowly, gently, and in bits and pieces. As the novel progresses, we come to realize the true extent of Bria’s hurt and pain and just what she must do to overcome that. Furthermore, Bria is filled to the brim with flaws – she is petulant, she is afraid, she seems to change her moods at whim, she cannot understand her own feelings, and most of all, she can’t seem to let go of her past. Yet, all these qualities make her a remarkable, respectable, and realistic protagonist. In addition, Bria’s growth throughout the novel is gradual, not only as a person, but also as an artist. I think the most beautiful part of this entire story was seeing Bria find ways to re-connect with her art, her lifeline, her passion. Overall, Bria’s journey is one that is rewarding, fully developed, and not without its flaws, yet it manages to be perfect all the same.
Speaking of perfection, there was little to be found of it within the cast of these characters. Starling and Rowan are an enigmatic and startling duo with their own set of ideals, philosophies, and their own burdens in life. I don’t think I can even begin to brush upon the extent of pain that Rowan carries in his life. Here is a male protagonist who has had a tortured past, who has attempted to move on past it in one of the worst ways, and who is now on the road to redemption. Even before Rowan meets Bria, he has resolved to change the “bad boy” attitude that somehow got him through the past two years of his life. The unraveling of Rowan’s past is one of the greatest mysteries in this book and while it takes its own sweet time and the eventual revelation is startling and shockingly ugly, it only increases the reader’s respect for Rowan and how far he has come as a person. It isn’t an easy task to move on or change your outlook on life and more than that, it isn’t easy to forget the past. Rowan, despite his theories of “wanderlove” and his own unique elements to living life, doesn’t have it all figured out.
Wanderlove isn’t simply Bria’s journey, it is Rowan’s journey too. Although the two of them find much of themselves within each other, they find it alone and by themselves as well. I think it was important how Hubbard made these two develop their relationship from strangers, reluctant acquaintances, and easy friends to something that was even more deep and special. Yet, throughout all this, they manage to retain their independence and their sense of self, all while giving into their confounded feelings for one another. Wanderlove contains within its pages one of the slowest developing love stories of all time, but I loved every minute of it. It was perfect in its own way and I found myself in awe of its beautiful ending which seemed to resolve everything, yet leave even more up for interpretation, imagination, and creativity.
In conclusion, Wanderlove is a story that will stick with me for a long time. Not only is it original in its journey to Central America, but the passion of the author and her own obvious experiences bleed through every page, making this a journey you cannot forget. Furthermore, what I find is more important than the bittersweet love story or the heart-warming characters are the themes and messages that emerge from this story. There aren’t many books that leave you with a feeling that you’ve learned more about life from simply reading them, but Wanderlove does. Not only do I feel more wiser, more spontaneous, and more in love with this story than when I first began this review, I also feel a strange sense of cathartic release. I can only hope that other readers will fall in love with this story as I did and find their own antidotes to wanderlove in the world.
You can read this review and more on my blog, Ivy Book Bindings.