this review of kirsten hubbard's wanderlove goes along with tracey neithercott's ya book club. after the club chose wanderlove (which is set in guatemala and belize) tracey asked us to perhaps focus our comments on kirsten's use of setting specifically - how crucial a role we felt it played, how we as writers could learn from her descriptions. I'm sort of going to do that in this post, but I should also say here that kirsten and I share an agent, so I'm predisposed to adoring her and everything she writes.
I'm reminded of that story when I read other stories about travel. the travel narrative is well-worn ground. but most of the travel narratives that come quickly to my mind are about boys/young guys (the adventures of huckleberry finn, into the wild, on the road). there are less narratives about girls/women finding themselves through travel and an exploration of place, and those stories tend to be less entrenched in the collective popular mind - I'm thinking pilgrim at tinker creek by annie dillard, in country by bobbie ann mason, the land of little rain by mary austin, or more recently wild by cheryl strayed).
it is as if travel (either alone or in a duo, if you're huck and jim) is a boy thing. for rowan in wanderlove, that's what travel was - an act of coming to terms with oneself through accumulating anklets and cutoff shorts, growing a ponytail and being generally a rugged dude. over the course of the novel, that changes a bit. but we also have bria, who embarks on a strange journey to a strange place to try to come to terms with herself, and part of her reinvention also involves clothes and a hair alteration (among other things more profound things, of course).
stay with me: there is this other saying attributed to buddha: “no one saves us but ourselves. no one can and no one may. we ourselves must walk the path.” however, one of the great things about kirsten's characters is that both of them learn through each other, through strangers, through friends as well as independently, proving there is not just one proverbial path.
as much as I love my collection of buddha quotes, I have to remember that his story is that of a boy, siddhartha, going on a solo journey to find himself - and thus it is typical. stories about girls traveling can take a different shape and be no less significant. there can be the taking of literal and figurative "plunges" and rides along "bumpy" roads, and while they are capable of saving themselves, girls aren't so arrogant to deny a little help along the way. kirsten gives us a bria that starts out stubborn and hard-line, but then transforms remarkably.
by the way, this is my favorite line from the novel: "so jack concocts several pitchers of mocktails, which taste like watermelon smoothie mixed with cough syrup and agony." so funny. the ghost of a terrible hangover creeps up my throat just reading that sentence.