Release Date: March 13th 2012
Publisher: Random House
Also by this Author: Like Mandarin
Buy It: Book Depository
In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, 18-year-old Bria signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.When I said, after finishing Kirsten Hubbard's incredible debut novel Like Mandarin, that I wasn't quite to wait long to pick up her second novel, I wasn't kidding. Two weeks later I was diving into Wanderlove, with only the slightest touch of apprehension, because the storyline itself was not quite as appealing to me. While I didn't have quite the same heart-rush for Wanderlove as I did for Like Mandarin, the novel was still a great read: filled with adventure, growth, and heart.
The unusual settings– Guatemala and Belize– are brought to life by Hubbard's skilled description, and it's not surprising that she's worked as a travel writer for years. Travel love, wanderlove, the pages of this book exude it and it's probably impossible to finish the novel without having an instant desire to book plane tickets to Central America. In a way, Wanderlove makes the reader feel like they've had a firsthand look into what it would be like, that maybe, in a tiny way, a part of them has visited.
As incredible as Hubbard's setting and description were once again, there were a couple aspects that didn't quite live up to her debut novel for me. In particular, the dialogue didn't feel as natural, and in a few instances even came off as insincere. I felt like I had really gotten to know the characters, and it was hard to imagine them speaking that way. My second complaint might not be shared by those with a softer hear than me, but the ending, especially the last few pages, were just way too cheesy for me. Bria's journey hadn't been easy or straightforward, and to end things in such a corny way, felt false for me. But maybe I'm just cold-hearted. Finally, the whole no strings attached hookup storyline seemed a bit juvenile and pointless within the whole novel, the sort of tacked on component I'm not sure I would have missed.
What I definitely would have missed if they weren't a unique part of Wanderlove are the drawings, Bria's drawings, done by Hubbard herself, that are included throughout. As beautiful as they are, at first I was worried they'd be distracting from the story, but there are just enough to add, without taking away and jarring me out of the story. One or two, though well-drawn of course, might have been unnecessary, but I was willing to accept them because of the other 90% that were a complete benefit to the novel.
Bria also has a rich and authentic character development, and even though the novel takes place over 20 days, it really feels like she's changed by the end. Considering how life-altering travel can be, it really does fit, and the way that Hubbard's shows her past, through flashbacks, and her current experiences, made for a satisfying and believable change in Bria.
Overall, Wanderlove wasn't another Like Mandarin: it had its own unique cast of characters, incredible setting, and engaging story line, and while it didn't have quite the magic of my first Hubbard experience it is still a completely worthwhile and wonderful reading experience. I eagerly await Hubbard's next novel, and there better be some kind of announcement about it soon; I don't want to wait too long.