Wanderlove - Kirsten Hubbard
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From the unforgettable characters to the lushly described scenery to the whimsical and detailed drawings (by the author herself, no less) Wanderlove is a hit. I had very few complaints and whole lot of love for this fish-out-of-water coming-of-age novel. Bria Sandoval, the main character and also someone I'd like to hang out with, is an eighteen year-old, determined, funny, artistic girl and on her own in Central America. Following a mysteriously bad and viscerally painful breakup and lack of travel commitment from her "friends", Bria solely sets out on an unexpected and revealing journey. Escaping her ex-boyfriend/her hostile home life/her unreliable friends for freedom and change, Bria is a wonderfully flawed and complex young woman. 
Bria was fun to read. She didn't annoy me with her idiosyncrasies (in fact they felt genuine and part of her intrinsically quirky personality), and she didn't act too perfect either. Though there is minimal information provided about Bria and her life, hints are slowly doled out throughout the novel, building a less than picturesque home life. I appreciate the restraint of Ms. Hubbard's slow revelation, which allowed both my curiosity and empathy for the character to build naturally. In experiences ranging from comical to hysterical to kinda gross, Bria emerges as the type of girl most young women want to be: capable, talented, smart and self-aware. Not to say that she is irritatingly perfect; the typical teenage disillusion with responsibility is obvious,  along with a quick and agile temper. Bria's flaws only serve to make her a more complete character, and I liked her all the more for her rough edges.
In her diverse travels, Bria meets up with the two most important characters of her experience down south: Rowan and Starling. From their slightly-off names to their wonderdully unique attitudes, the laid-back Ro and Star were a nice foil for the more straight-laced California girl. While their introduction to the novel's storyline and motivation for being around Bria aren't completely believable, both were dynamic, different and interesting characters. Clearly Rowan, as the tortured-by-his-past bad boy love interest was featured more prominently than his la vie boheme half-sister, but the relationship between the two struck the right chord between caring and overbearing older sibling. Rowan himself, though I liked him and found him appealing for the most part, overdoes the whole "bad guy with mysterious, off-limits past." His extended "mysterious aura" part was too withholding for my own preferences. Which is a shame, because the other aspects of the character were ones I loved (his hidden kindness, protectiveness, love for water, etc.) The whole "secret" was dragged out a bit too long, and caused my opinion of the boy to decline somewhat. I focused more on the obvious negative than the positives exhibited in the character as the novel went. I did like how the revelation about Rowan was handled - quietly, and maturely before the real problem was revealed.
The setting - or more correctly, the settings for there are several differing locales - were all popping with vibrancy and life  in Hubbard's easy-to-fall-into prose. I loved that a destination novel was not about Europe, or even Africa, but rather the neglected and ignored Central American region. Belize, Laughingbird Caye, Guatemala - all were important (and not cliche!) and different locales featured in this half-novel half-travel guide. (It's not really like a travel guide, but no other book has had me longing for a Belizean/Central American vacation like this one did!) The scenery and life of the islands/countries absolutely popped with life and color; Hubbard's history as a travel writer is apparent and wonderfully fills the novel with the genuine minutiae and attitudes of true travelers. The drawings/sketches and the settings were among the top reasons I loved this novel so much. It's an easy novel to sink into; the atmosphere is enveloping and total for the whole period of Bria's explorations.
This is well-written, interesting and unique novel. I loved most of it, want to read it again, and also fully plan to pimp it out to friends and family. My minor issues were just that -minor. This is a novel where so much is done so wonderfully, I cannot wait to read another book by this impressive author. I think that in March, when this is officially released, it will be another must-read hit along the lines of the author's Like Mandarin.