Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

9. Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

I read an enthusiastic review of Wanderlove somewhere,and it sounded like just the kind of book I was longing for. A bildungsroman about a girl who finds herself (and, inevitably, romance), backpacking through South America. So I really wanted to like this book. And I will say that I got what I wanted out of it, namely nostalgia for a particular kind of traveling and inspiration for future travel plans. But the overwhelming YA-ness of this book, I'm sorry, I just didn't love it.

There are some books that fall in the YA category that I do absolutely love. This is not that kind of book.Wanderlove is a YA book with an eighteen-year-old protagonist, a choppy writing style, inspirational quotes, kids' book references (and yeah I was into that part), an obvious cutesy romance, and a tendency to stereotype and simplify the world. Not all YA books are like this, but it's exactly what I'm afraid of when I pick up a YA book. This book especially trades on stereotypes that are particularly irritating to me, specifically the tourist/traveler divide.

Bria, the main character, starts the novel as a member of a tour group called Global Vagabonds. It's filled with middle-aged people who just want to read on the bus and are terrified of street food. Her contempt for them is not subtle, and the reader is invited to join in. Moreover, Bria idolizes the "beautiful, beautiful backpacker girls...unlike me, they've learned the right way to travel." This dichotomy that there is a "right' way to travel is consistently reinforced. Even though Bria forms a superficial friendship with a middle-aged beadworker, when she dramatically storms out with one of the awe-inspiring backpackers, her friend validates her feelings with a wistful blessing, "I missed that part of being young." And again when Bria "defends" tourism to her newfound backpacker friend, even when he agrees to be more accepting, he still says things that imply otherwise like, "It must drive you crazy. To have your whole trip planned out for you. No choice of your own." Obviously, this appeals to teenage readers, heck, it appeals to me, but it's just as narrow-minded. Some people like planned travel-and that's okay.Not all people who travel with tour groups are there just for the highlights, some are as genuinely interested as "travelers" or "backpackers," they just prefer more comfortable accommodations.

All in all, points for references to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Harriet the Spy,points for some cool drawings that looked talented-amateurish, and points for exploring Guatemala and Belize, but next time leave the cliches at home.

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