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Wanderlove - Kirsten Hubbard At first glance, Wanderlove appears to be a light piece of escapist travel fiction, treading the well-worn paths of comedic culture shock, adventure and self-discovery common to backpacker lit. Upon reading, however, it’s evident that Wanderlove is much more than this. It is a resonant and affecting story about healing and uncertainty - about looking backward in order to move forward. It’s about self-worth not being contingent upon the opinions and judgments of others, but rather upon ourselves, and having the courage to embrace the strengths and flaws that make us who we are. Wanderlove follows the physical and emotional journey of 18 year old Bria Sandoval: from California, doubt, and a damaged relationship with her art, to Central America, self-insight and strength.It begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Are you a Global Vagabond?, and a disenchanting touchdown complete with middle-aged, Dean Koontz-novel toting, suitcase-wheeling tourists. Hardly the idyllic escape promised in the travel brochure photos. Enter charismatic/enigmatic backpackers Starling and Rowan, the doctrine of wanderlove, and Bria’s travels take a turn from tour bus to chicken bus, from check-box itinerary to spontaneity and chance.It may be worth mentioning that my enjoyment of Wanderlove was very much tied up in the extent to which I personally related to the story, and to Bria as a character. (After all, I do hail from a country where travel in general, and backpacking specifically, is seen as somewhat of a rite of passage.) Besides simply flavouring my reading experience with a hint of nostalgia though, I felt connected with the story. I was invested in Bria emotionally. I wanted to see her grow and develop, how Hubbard would unwind the tangles of Bria’s complex relationships with her art, her family and friends, even herself. There is an effortless, smooth quality to Hubbard’s writing, in both the authenticity of Bria’s voice and the beautifully captured descriptions of her travel experiences. The prose is clear and succinct, not overly embellished. Quotes, journal entries and flashbacks are used sparingly here, and don’t weigh down or distract from the narrative. Hubbard’s own travel experiences and writing come to the fore, and her passion for the subject is evident.While the story is compulsively readable, this is largely a character driven novel. Plot and exotic locations aside, I felt that Hubbard’s strength really lay in her ability to create realistic characters, and to gradually reveal their depth and motivations. What may appear to have begun as backpacker caricatures become multi-dimensional characters with agency. There’s even a little sly subversion of the backpacker-chic stereotype, as Bria’s travels progress and her perspective begins to shift. It would be remiss of me not to mention the artwork (drawn by the author) that appears throughout Wanderlove. There is a whimsical, hopeful quality to the drawings, and they play well into the book, particularly into Bria’s internal journey and backstory. (I read this as an e-galley, so I’m particularly interested to see the actual hardcopy ‘in the wild’, as I’m sure my kindle screen did not do full justice to the art.)In addition to Bria’s arc and her relationships with the characters, Wanderlove also lightly touches on the different reasons people travel, and the impacts upon the local population and infrastructure. It’s not a subject deeply delved into, but some interesting insights are offered – particularly in the case of Rowan’s opinions and his personal set of beliefs. Wanderlove offers more than a simple travel romance, or a series of vivid holiday snapshots. Rather, it examines what it is to recover, to reclaim, and ultimately, to look forward. A review copy was provided by the publishers via NetGalley