{YA Book Club is the brainchild of writer/blogger Tracey Neithercott.
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February’s YA Book Club selection is Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

From GoodreadsIt all begins with a stupid question: Are you a Global Vagabond? No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she 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. Bria’s a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan’s a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they’ve got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward. But Bria comes to realize she can’t run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.

Tracey provided some structure for this month’s book club post in the form of a few setting-related questions, which I think is an excellent idea. I’m planning a Bookanista recommendation for Wanderlove in a few weeks, so I’m going to save my official review (Spoiler: I kind of loved it!), and focus on the talking points below:

1. How did setting play a part in the story?

While Wanderlove‘s characters are fantastic and its writing is beautiful, it is, at its essence, a story about finding one’s self after high school — pretty basic YA material. What makes it exceptional is its unique setting, one very few people could have captured as stunningly as Kirsten Hubbard (she is, according to her bio, a bit of a  Global Vagabond herself).

Kirsten used her story’s setting to challenge its characters, especially Bria. The ocean, the language barriers, the currency differences, the strange foods and customs, the dangers of traveling alone in a foreign country — it all threw Bria for a loop, forcing her to take a good hard look at herself and attitude. Had Wanderlove been set in, say… a midwest suburb… I doubt its underlying themes of independent exploration, self-discovery, and autonomy would have been illustrated as effectively as they are in lush and vivid Central American.

2. Could this story have been told in a different setting and still been the same?

Certainly not the same, but I think the story could have been set in any tropical, slow-developing, mostly-foreign-language-speaking area of the world. Bria needed to feel totally displaced and occasionally helpless, a fish out of water, to take control of her life and accountability for her decisions, both past and present. I loved the richness of the Central America setting, though. It definitely gave me a case of wanderlust!

3. What tips did you pick up from Kirsten Hubbard when it comes to setting?

Setting can be — should be! — a character in and of itself. I’ve heard this advice many times, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it executed as skillfully as Kirsten does in Wanderlove.  She used setting not only as a vibrant backdrop, but as a tool to express her story’s themes. Plus, Kirsten’s descriptions are rich and imaginative, and she makes use of all five sense when discussing the countries mentioned in the story. She made me feel like I was backpacking with Bria and Rowan, eating mango, lounging in a hammock, gazing at a million sparkling stars, which made Wanderlove unputdownable. I didn’t want my vacation to end!

4. Did you feel the use of illustrations enhanced the story?

I did! I loved the illustrations, and thought they added a unique layer to the story, and to the setting. It was a treat to see — not just read about — what Bria saw during her trip, especially since drawing is such a huge part of her identity. The illustrations also helped demonstrate her character arc. Her drawings grew with her, and as the story progressed, I started to look forward to them with the same enthusiasm with which I anticipated the progression of Bria’s relationship with Rowan. Incidentally, I predicted what the last illustration of the story would be, but I did NOT allow myself to page ahead for a peek. I wanted to wait it out with the characters. 🙂

Tell me: Have you read Wanderlove? What were your thoughts on its unique setting?

If you haven’t read it, will you?


11 thoughts on “YA Book Club: WANDERLOVE

  1. Rebecca B says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you wrote–both of Kirsten’s books have taught me that setting should be as integral as any other part of the story. I loved the illustrations, too–I wanted Bria to start drawing her experiences so badly near the beginning, and when butterflies and jungle beasties started popping up on the page, I was so happy for her!

    • katyupperman says:

      I loved the jungle beasties too! The more Bria drew, the prouder of her I felt. The illustrations were such a cool, unique way for Kirsten to demonstrate her protagonist’s growth.

  2. Tracey Neithercott (@T_Neithercott) says:

    I love that you did this in a Q&A formate. And I completely agree, especially that the story wouldn’t have been as noteworthy had it taken place in some high school in an anonymous town. Oh, and I guessed at the illustration, too, but couldn’t peak. I felt like I needed Bria to be ready before I saw it. That’s why I loved the illustrations.

    • katyupperman says:

      Yes! I didn’t want to see that last drawing until Bria was ready to show me. Isn’t it weird how invested we can become in a book, and in a FICTIONAL character’s development? I love it when I’m able to get so into a story. 🙂

  3. crystalschubert says:

    “Had Wanderlove been set in, say… a midwest suburb… I doubt its underlying themes of independent exploration, self-discovery, and autonomy would have been illustrated as effectively as they are in lush and vivid Central American.”

    I totally agree with this. The setting was not only beautifully written, it was also integral to the story and the book’s themes overall. Definitely a writing lesson to be learned in that!

  4. Elodie says:

    Great review, Katy! 😀

    While I agree that the setting played a very important part in Bria´s story and was definitely well crafted, I think the same type of self-discovery could be attained in a more “normal” setting. I think it comes more from my personal experience and that may be why I did not interlink both settings with her story. When one is out of his/her comfort zone, I think it can trigger that type of realizations. Of course for Bria, the trigger is more magnificent and exotic than for others 😀

    What I found utterly well done in the setting as well included the description of the travelling/life style…

    And I LOVED the illustrations!

    • katyupperman says:

      Lucky Bria to have such a beautiful and exotic setting to discover herself amidst (not to mention her hottie travel guide!). Thanks for sharing a bit about your personal experience with traveling and growing up, Elodie. It’s always so enlightening to get a fresh perspective on fiction. 🙂

  5. Alison Miller says:

    I had an ARC of this and gave it away before I could read it. And now, after hearing all these amazing things, I regret it. BIG time. But it’s cool. I’ll just have to order me a copy from Amazon…um, soon. 🙂

    Great review as always, Katy. I hope I’ll be able to participate in the next book club.

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