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Wanderlove - Kirsten Hubbard I wasn't quite sure what to expect going into Wanderlove. My brain interpreted the cover and synopsis as a fun, sun-baked coming of age story and I foresaw exotic locales and a frothy romance. And while Wanderlove certainly delivered on those expectations, it packaged them with much more emotional depth than I anticipated.Bria, the heroine has just gotten out of a less than supportive relationship and her self-esteem is at an all time low. She's lost her passion for art and without it she feels as if she has no identity. She is focused on becoming a version of herself that has never successfully existed before and her first few attempts at it are awkward to behold. She's envying strangers of things they might not even possess, comparing herself to everyone around her and bitterly disappointed at what she sees. Bria has all of these ideals in her head of what she needs to be to be happy and really living but has no idea how to get from her point A to that point B.Although Bria makes the huge step of deciding to go on a tour of Guatemala even after her friends drop out of the trip, she soon becomes dissatisfied with her tour group's inability to match up to her preconceived notions of world travelers. Even in paradise Bria is moping about her ex-boyfriend, being unkind to the fellow members of her tour group for having the nerve to be middle-aged, and feeling the need to exaggerate or outright lie about her traveling bona fides to feel better about herself. It doesn't work. It never does.The first few chapters I wondered if I had stumbled into Backpackers: Mean Girls Minus the Hygiene. (That's why their hair is so big, it's full of secrets.) Bria has a chance encounter with a backpacker sibling duo Starling and Rowan and immediately senses two things: 1) These are the authentic world travelers she aches to be and 2) That she feels painfully inadequate compared to them. When the opportunity presents itself to break away from her generic tour group for a chance at unpredictable adventure with Starling and Rowan, Bria decides that here is her chance for real transformation, to truly try to become that real person instead of bristling under the potential for the rest of her life.That is why I liked Bria from the start. Even at the beginning when she's outwardly being a fraud, she is always painfully honest in the inside. It is so easy to acknowledge that yeah, you shouldn't let other people's opinion of you dictate your happiness or self-worth but it's so much harder to actually put it into practice. Her transformation over the course of the novel is subtle and believable. I loved how being in an unfamiliar environment helped her along. Bria's matter of fact sense of humor was also a real bright spot for me. The evolution of Bria's relationship with Rowan, a guy who is trying to make a difficult transformation of his own, is beautifully handled. They are both learning to let go of their respective fears and past and learn to trust in themselves, trust in each other and trust in the world around them. A lot of books claim their love interests are "just what each other needs" but this is the rare book that delivers on that promise. I also really enjoyed the art aspect as well and Bria's rediscovery of her passion for it. I particularly appreciated the depictions of how much practice it takes to maintain such a passion, the intense privacy of it and the paranoia involved with others seeing your art outside of a controlled environment. Hubbard's illustrations add a lot to the story.Besides being absolutely lovely, Hubbard's writing has a kind, good-humored quality to it directed at both her characters and the reader, from Bria's false bravado at the beginning of the novel, to my horror at Rowan's hair. (My ultimate ponytail amnesia test: the french braid.) It's like the story is being told to you by a good friend. Hubbard's descriptions of the locations Bria and Rowan visited are delightful to read. As someone who has traveled to many of the places depicted (I'm no backpacker but I have been on a broken down bus in Belize) it was a pleasure to revisit them through Hubbard's prose.They say the unexpected adventures can be the most satisfying and that theory definitely holds true with this book. PS. For this review one of Rowan's leg bracelets just has to be this.PPS. To all the lovelies who participated in the ponytail referendum over here on Goodreads, I gave Rowan a hair cut just for you.This review originally appeared on Young Adult Anonymous.