Kirsten Hubbard’s sophomore novel follows the Central American adventures of Bria, a recent high school grad who’s on a mission to prove herself…to herself (and maybe to her ex, but she’s not thinking about him, no sirree). In Guatemala, Bria hooks up with Starling and Rowan, two backpacking vagabonds who live the kind of life Bria desperately wants—confident and carefree. Over the next two weeks, Bria breaks out of her shell, puts her past behind her, and experiences new and great things.
In the worst light, Wanderlove looks like a cheesy, dramatic novel of a middle-class white girl’s self-discovery in somewhat unrealistic but oh-so-charming circumstances. In the best light, Wanderlove looks like a sweet and fun story of a teen artist’s identity crisis and eventual arrival at understanding and acceptance. In the most objective light, Wanderlove is both those things—it is a bit melodramatic, it is a bit cheesy, it’s also about a girl who has problems that need to be solved, and it’s about people who are relatable and fun to read about, in spite of their glamorous waif-of-the-world personas.
Bria, the main character, is certainly not my favorite female protagonist ever, but I enjoyed reading about her and I think she was well-rounded and realistic. A lot of times, I get annoyed with books about artists/musicians because it’s difficult to express music or drawing through words on a page. But Wanderlove included some really cute doodles that Bria “drew” during her trek through the jungle, and I thought they added a nice touch, and really helped me connect better with Bria.
The plot was, more or less, one long road trip with some hefty character development thrown in. I definitely liked that Hubbard took this book on location, as it were, the way we experienced the scenery through Bria’s eyes as first-timers was great. I do have a complaint to make in regards to plot, however. Rowan, Bria’s friend, has this deep dark secret that he carries around with him for two-thirds of the book. Hubbard kept building suspense and building suspense until reader expectation was so high that, when the reveal came during a pivotal scene, I could only roll my eyes and say “oh, is that all?” That, of course, definitely clashed with Bria’s reaction, because she freaked out and made phone calls and OMG, disaster waiting to happen. Sometimes, suspense really isn’t the best plot technique, and this is one of those cases.
Wanderlove was mayhap a little cheesy in the ending as well, but I guess I was expecting it to a certain degree. I think it fit, and I liked that it was not a nailed-down Happily Ever After with all loose strings tied up—that would have been a little too unrealistic for me. I definitely thought that it was nice to see Bria come into her own and learn more about herself and what it means to be proactive.
Altogether, Wanderlove had a teensy bit too much cheese for my taste, but it was still a solid read in spite of its fluffy outer coating. Kirsten Hubbard wrote a unique and fun story set in a never before seen location, and managed to pull off a compelling story at the same time.