My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wanderlove….Please ignore and forgive the cheesy title (and rather uninteresting cover picture) until you have read the book. I don’t even know where to begin telling you about this book. This book is, hands down, one of my favorite books. I give Wanderlove a 5 star rating, no doubt about it! There’s just one issue. Already being infected with the travel bug, reading this book just made it worse. It is obvious that the author has seen these people, knows this life. Her main character, Bria, I absolutely adore. Bria is not perfect but she doesn’t let herself be completely broken either. She will call people out on their bulls**t and she is trying to fix herself. I relate to Bria, perhaps a little too much.
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD
Bria’s life before the trip is mostly shown to us in flashbacks and memories. It was really well done! Over time we learn what possessed Bria—a girl who has never really traveled, nor shown any real need to see anywhere but home— to go on her trip to Central/South America. She had dreams for her and her (now ex) boyfriend Toby. As long as he was better than her, Toby loved all their plans also and never let on that anything was wrong. That is probably why Bria never saw anything wrong with their relationship until she is suddenly looking back on it. Toby took a lot from her when he left. He took her love of swimming at her favorite beach, her need to draw and create. You get a really good sense of how bad their relationship was when Bria at one point says, “sometimes I wished for the testimony of a bruise.” That’s when it hits you, this book isn’t just a summer getaway; Bria is looking for something, maybe hope, possibly proof that she is strong.
Nevertheless, that is only a part of the book, and not even the most interesting part. Toby is why she went on her trip. What she does once she is there, that’s the part that will make you fall in love. Bria has high expectations for this trip, she expects to float around and be admired by her fellow travelers as the mysterious but kind one. She hopes to get her art back and be admired by all. She hopes this trip will fix her, let her be happy and careless for awhile and return home with a beautiful story and a few good laughs. Now, let’s admit it, if you have ever thought of traveling, this scenario has crossed your mind. You convince yourself that it is going to be a grand and profoundly changing experience at the end of which you will return to your “real” life and be happy. That damn, just out of reach, happy. We’re always chasing it are we not? And a solid 99.99% of the time we are disappointed because reality can rarely compete with the images in our head. Bria meets up with her carefully chosen tour group and it is filled with seniors who would rather snooze and a tour guide who has a fixed schedule with no time for adventure. Bria’s trip, to say the least, looks like it is going to be terrible.
Then come the backpackers. With their effortless ways and worn backpacks. They seem to have it all figured out. Through a series of events —though unlikely, I never once found myself questioning it or feeling it was forced—Bria ends up ditching her tour for backpacking, joining Starling and Rowans adventure.
This is when the adventure truly takes off and when I truly began to wish this book had no ending. We are whisked away to Central America and we get to see it like never before. We visit the most beautiful lake in the world and talk about sunrises over the Mayan ruins. We’re taken off the beaten track and brought into peoples backyards and offered small glimpses into their lives. We meet a woman who lives on a now-popular island. She tells us what it was like before all the people came. We meet people who are just trying to do the best with what they have and we meet kids playing soccer in a muddy field. We join in games and talk about things that matter (flesh eating bacteria, the impacts of travel and guilt, among a thousand others).
I insist you read this book if it even remotely piques your interest. Of all the books you pick up, let this be one of them.
note: The names of some of the smaller islands the author has changed, but the places are real and can be found with a Google search if you’re so inclined! I also want to point out that there is the discussion of backpacking versus the common tourist method. It is not a prominent feature of the book but it is in the background and surfaces a few times throughout the book. I had wanted to go to Central America before reading this but now it is a must. I know at the moment it is not among the safer places in the world and seeing as how I have never traveled alone, I am going to wait before I go. I am going to wait and be smart but as long as I get the privilege of dying when I’m old, I am going to make it to Central America one day.
Disclaimer: Image at top is not mine and was drawn by the author of Wanderlove. The book features a few drawings done by main character Bria (in real life all drawings were done by the author).