When I heard that Kristen Hubbard was coming out with a book about backpackers in Guatemala, I knew I had to read it. Because I've been a backpacker myself, love to travel and went to Guatemala for 3 weeks right after college.
And WANDERLOVE was a fun ride. After a bad breakup with her boyfriend, one that causes her to rethink attending art school, Bria Sandoval impulsively signs up for a tour of Guatemala. But when the tour group turns out to be all middle-aged tourists, Bria breaks away from the group to travel with backpackers Starling and her brother Rowan.
What I really love about WANDERLOVE is how well Hubbard captures the feeling of independent travel. There's the exhilaration of discovery as well as the annoyance with inconveniences.
I have to admit that I found it kind of funny (but endearing) how much Bria idolized backpackers in the early chapters. Backpacker portrayal in the fiction I've read runs the gamut from self-appointed gods (THE BEACH by Alex Garland) to clueless wanderers (ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? by William Sutcliffe, one of the most hilarious books I've ever read - check it out).
But Hubbard keeps the novel from being a complete love letter to backpacker culture with her characterization of Rowan. His way of thinking is sometimes incredibly arrogant, sometimes undeniably appealing. He has that typical superior backpacker attitude that his way is the right way, and everyone else is doing it wrong (and Bria calls him on it). But Hubbard shows us a generous side of him, the caring core that slips out in the quiet moments - in the evening swinging in a shared hammock for example.
WANDERLOVE takes us on a tour of Guatemala and Belize, but it's a complete story thanks to the careful character arcs of both Bria and Rowan. Bria's evolution is a gradual realization that she needs to take a more active role in her own destiny and Rowan needs to face up to and move past the youthful indiscretions that haunt him. Bria and Rowan's relationship has its ups and downs, but deep down, they're good for each other. It beautiful, really.
I have to talk a bit about the locations as well. Many of them I knew well - from my own trip, and it was thrilling to see them come alive again on the page via Hubbard's colorful writing. On her blog, Hubbard does a wonderful series spotlighting the various settings in WANDERLOVE - complete with pictures and excerpts from the book. You get to explore (an * indicates that I've been there too):
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala*
Santa Lucia, Guatemala (fictional village on the shores of Lake Atitlan, I visited Santiago de Atitlan while I was there. Ask me sometime about the curse of Maximon)
Chicken buses* (oh yeah, rode lots of these)
Guatemala City, Guatemala*
Rio Dulce, Guatemala*
Punta Gorda, Belize
Belize City, Belize
Laughingbird Caye, Belize (fictional)
On my trip, I also visited the ruins of Copan in Honduras, a place on Bria's original itinerary before she ditched her group.
Here I am in front of one of the main temples in Tikal.
And this was one of my favorite moments in Tikal - sitting on top of the temple, looking out over the jungle and being throughly entertained by monkeys.
WANDERLOVE is available now. Find out more about it at the author's website.
FTC disclosure: I read a galley provided by the publisher on NetGalley.