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Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
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Penning an extended review for "Wanderlove" intimidates me to an extent, because I don't know if I can write an apt enough description of how much I loved this book. The characters, the intimacy in the sense of place, the immersion I felt and the need to not want to put it down (even in points where I absolutely had to). It's among my favorite YA (though I would also argue overall) reads of 2012. I would highly recommend this for those who love coming of age stories, stories with a rich immersion within a different culture, and identification with characters that take a life of their own inside the pages of the work.

The story revolves around 18-year-old Bria Sandoval, a young woman who wants nothing more than to reinvent herself after graduating from high school. Having abandoned her artistic ambitions, left behind her ex-boyfriend, and ultimately feeling that she needed a drastic change in her life, she decides to go backpacking in Central America. Sounds fun, right? Only when she arrives to meet with her tour group - it isn't the experience she expects. It isn't until Bria meets the charming Rowan and his outspoken sister Starling that she decides to go rogue and embark on her own tour of Central America with them.

Both Rowan and Bria share a common thread - a need to get away from their old lives and reinvent themselves. Rowan works as an assistant diving instructor, keeping himself grounded after leading a rather wild lifestyle. Bria wants to get more out of her shell and transcend her boundaries. Both of them learn a bit about each other in the process, but realize that if they both want to move forward, they have to find some way of coming to terms with their pasts. The way that Hubbard depicts Rowan and Bria's relationship with each other, as well as Bria's coming to terms with the life she left behind and the choices ahead of her is sooo good. I mean, wicked good. There's a healthy blend of exploring the places that Bria and Rowan travel (conducive to Hubbard's real life experiences), a blend of exploring the strengths, weaknesses and experiences of each character, and beautiful illustrations that pepper the book in places. "Wanderlove" appealed to me in so many ways, these aspects included.

I think I developed a fictional crush on Rowan as well. I have a very small list of fictional crushes compared to most, my saying that I crushed (hard) on Rowan is no understatement. The image of him in the book matched exactly the image I had in my head of him (he's so cute, funny, and sweet, I'm not even sorry.) But I digress. :)

It's refreshing to see when an author can shape and show characters in a realistic way that helps the reader identify with them as the events of the novel come to pass. Bria's a bit of a lost soul having to come to terms with pains in her past, and deciding where she wants to go with her future. Rowan is a bit in the same path, though he's shaping his own path to redeeming himself from missteps that he's had, and re-establishing trust in his own relationships. It's not an easy road, but Hubbard compliments it with a healthy dose of humor that makes it all the more charming to read/see in action.

The locations of the work are provided in stunning detail, one that appealed to my inner desire to travel internationally in the future. In the depictions that Hubbard provides through Bria's voice, I found myself traveling right along with her and being in awe of the sights, sounds and life within her travels. I really, really wish there were more stories as vivid as this in literature in general, because its fascinating to see how a culture is perceived as its experienced for any viewer, whether novice or experienced.

Overall, this is one of the few books where, after putting it down, I wanted to pick it right back up again and read it. It was that good, and I wouldn't hesitate to add this to my own reading collection and encourage others to do the same.

Overall score: 5/5

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Random House/Delacorte BFYR.
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Reading Progress

04/17/2012 page 1
0.0% "I'm finally, FINALLY reading this. So excited :) Hopefully I can finish it shortly so that I can include it in my review batch for tomorrow." 4 comments
04/18/2012 page 43
12.0% 3 comments
04/18/2012 page 85
24.0% "My progress through this has been slow today because I've been so busy with other things, but eww at Bria opening a fruit full of maggots. And boo at Rowan for semi-laughing at her. (He's cute though.)"
04/19/2012 page 149
42.0% ""I brace myself for a stinging comeback. But instead, as Rowan backpaddles away, his dark blue eyes have gone all wounded puppy on me, and I feel like an asshole all over again."

Awww :("
04/19/2012 page 191
54.0% "Bria's old boyfriend Toby sounds like such a jerk. Ugh. It's sad that somehow he was the reason behind her reluctance to share her artwork. (BTW, the art included in the pages of the book is very nice.)"
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