Tag Archive | Realistic Fiction

Book Review: Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

I’m wearing quick-dry khaki capris, a crispy Windbreaker, and hiking shoes that make my feet feel like Clydesdale hooves. They’re brand-new. Like my too-short haircut and my purple suitcase, along with everything in it.

 

Wanderlove
Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Synopsis:
After graduation, Bria Sandoval was supposed to go to Europe with her boyfriend before they started Art School together. Instead, they broke up shortly after admissions notices came out. Her two best friends were going to fill in as travel companions, but then they backed out. Getting handed a simple pamphlet seems like a sign, and its question, “Are you a Global Vagabond?” inspires her. She longs to be like the beautiful people posing gracefully atop a Mayan ruin in the pamphlet photograph, but when she arrives in Guatemala, she immediately feels out of place in her tour group full of middle-aged vacationers. An unexpected invitation to join experienced backpacker Rowan and his sister Starling offers Bria the chance to finally break the rules. Getting even more lost might be just what Bria needs to find herself again.

 

Review:
After reading Hubbard’s debut, Like Mandarin, as part of the Debut Author Challenge last year, I said, “I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for her next book,” and I am so glad I did. Wanderlove is a gorgeous read, lush with detail and Hubbard’s graceful style.

With the first-person narration, Hubbard walks a delicate line. Bria has to reveal things about herself before truly recognizing them. The magic lies in the way her introspection feels natural; she is a lonely young woman in a place where she literally doesn’t speak the language. She has to talk things out with herself, and by extension, the reader. Bria’s metaphorical distance from her friends and parents and her figurative abandoned map of her future are made manifest as she travels thousands of miles away from home with barely a glance at the itinerary.

When the reader meets Bria, she is lost and confused. Art – drawing, in particular – was her constant, her comfort. “I used to be an artist,” she thinks on the plane from L.A.X., where she can’t even bring herself to draw in the sketchbook she opens. Her self-image has crumbled. When the girl in the seat next to her asks about her travel plans, Bria lies, wanting to sound cooler and worldlier than she is. She is trying so hard to become a new person, and it all comes crashing down by the last line of the first chapter: “So much for reinvention.”

Hubbard has a gift for representing sensory details, especially the visual element, in her prose. Bria’s artist view of the world leads her to pick out telling details. Her first glance at her Global Vagabonds tour group consists of “mustaches, baseball caps, doughy calves marbled with varicose veins.” It is not a flattering depiction, by any means, but it reveals more about Bria than it does about the tourists. Later, Bria describes an incident with Marcy, the tour director: “While the rest of my tour group browsed market stalls, I bought a chicken tamale from a street vendor. Before I could unwrap it from its banana leaf, Marcy velociraptored up behind me and snatched it from my hand.” The use of “velociraptor” as a verb is just perfect, a striking image that captures the feeling of that moment. When asked if she has ever been in love, Bria’s memory of her now-ex-boyfriend “bubble up, like acid reflux.” That phrase captures the pain she feels, the feelings she insists on hiding: “I force them down with a shrug.”

Bria grows and changes at a reasonable pace over the course of the novel, while secondary characters are simultaneously developed. Rowan, the handsome backpacker boy with the shadowy past and seemingly too-good-to-be-true Starling are no mere foils for the narrator. They are complicated individuals in their own right, and closing the novel feels all too much like losing what might have been good friends.

Just as the pull of “wanderlove” is more than the “itchy feet” of wanderlust, Wanderlove is more than just a road trip story. It is a richly detailed journey both within and without, ultimately bursting with an inspiring love for life well-lived. Whether tucked into a backpack to read on bumpy backroads buses or kept and enjoyed on a comfortable couch, this is a companion to be cherished.

On shelves March 13, 2012.

 

Final Word:
A richly detailed and beautifully rendered journey across Central America and within the heart of a girl who needs to get lost before she can find herself. Caution: may inspire re-examination of your own map of the future.

 

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request

View all my reviews

Related Posts:

Book Review: Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart

The only kind of music I remember Mom and Dad making together was loud fighting.

Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen
Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis:
Until her dad moved to California two years ago, Olivia Bean watched Jeopardy! with him every night. Now she watches it on her own, unless Mom’s annoying boyfriend insists on watching, too. Olivia dreams of competing on Kids’ Week; besides the money she could win, the trip to the taping would give her a chance to visit her dad. But even if she makes it, will her dad manage to make time to spend with her?

Review:
This sweet middle-grade contemporary takes on Parents Behaving Badly. Olivia adores her father, but it’s clear from the first chapter that he is not quite the man she wants him to be. She remembers how, when she was learning violin in the fourth grade, he would ask her to play “Over the Mountains and Far Away”, then says, “It took a bit of research to learn that Dad was teasing about my screechy playing. There is no song called ‘Over the Mountains and Far Away’; it was Dad’s fun way of asking me to practice somewhere else.” And when her father tells her that she “wouldn’t do well” on Jeopardy! because it would have “a ton of geography questions, and geography just isn’t your thing”, her reaction, even years later, is, “Dad was right, of course.” She follows her statement, “I am lousy at geography”, with her hope that she can overcome her weakness with lots of studying, but it remains painfully clear that she has taken her father’s careless comment to heart. Gephart slyly reveals the real character of Olivia’s father through these small observations over the course of the novel, and Olivia takes a long time getting to the realization that readers will have probably already reached.

Olivia gets a little help along the way to that conclusion from Neil, her mom’s live-in boyfriend, who provides an excellent foil for the absentee father. Gephart does an admirable job creating a realistic blended family dealing with familiar problems. The story is peppered with trivia factoids (including tidbits about Jeopardy! itself), a treat for readers who share Olivia’s passion. A light romantic subplot also helps leaven the mood. The only real weaknesses lie in some clunky narration and in the pacing, which occasionally drags before picking up again. Olivia repeatedly refers to an “unfortunate hula hoop incident”; by the time the details are revealed near the end of the novel, it seems like a let-down.

On shelves March 13, 2012.

Final Word:
Despite some clunky narrative and pacing, the realistic characters and situations make this sweet contemporary novel a good choice for grades 4-7.

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request

View all my reviews

Related Posts:

Book Review: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.

 

Wonder
Wonder by R.J. Palacio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Synopsis:
August Pullman has had 27 surgeries in his 10 years of life. Because of the hospitalizations and other health problems, his mother has homeschooled him. But now his parents have enrolled him in the fifth grade at Beecher Prep. He knows he is just an ordinary kid, but he also knows that his face is different, and it is the first thing anyone will notice. Will he be able to get his new classmates to look beyond his appearance and get to know the ordinary kid inside? Or is he, just maybe, more extraordinary than he thinks?

 

Review:
Auggie’s first year of mainstream school is described in short chapters from several perspectives. Besides Auggie himself, his sister and four other characters get a chance to tell their sides of the story. Palacio does a fantastic job giving each character his (or her) own distinctive voice. The multiple perspectives also allow the reader to know more than any one character does, even (especially) Auggie. As Mr. Tushman points out, “there are almost always more than two sides to every story.” The characters are complicated. No one, not even Auggie, is all good or all bad. The situations are realistic, from the bullying in the halls of Beecher Prep to the small family dramas in the Pullman home. This is an amazing story told with empathy and humor. Kids and adults alike will love this stellar debut. Highly recommended.

On shelves February 14, 2012.

 

Final Word:
A beautifully written, heart-breaking but uplifting tale of one (extra-)ordinary kid.

 

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request

 

 

View all my reviews

Related Posts:

Book Review: Brendan Buckley’s Sixth-Grade Experiment by Sundee T. Frazier

Some people never ask questions. Maybe they’re afraid they’ll look dumb, or maybe they don’t think of things to ask. But not me. It’s like my brain is one big bowl of Rice Krispies and all my questions are the milk. It’s a constant snap, crackle, and pop up there.


Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment
Brendan Buckley’s Sixth-Grade Experiment by Sundee T. Frazier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
 

Synopsis:
Brendan Buckley is back, and he’s headed for middle school! He has all-new questions to write down and ponder, from whether he can train his new pet anole to anticipate his morning feeding to whether he can pass his next Tae Kwon Do belt test. And why doesn’t his dad show as much interest in how his entry in the national science competition is going as in how he’ll do in the martial arts tournament? Why are things weird between him and his best friend? And how does he really feel about Morgan, the girl from the Rock Club who just started at his school?

 

Review:
There is a whole lot going on in this sequel to Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It. Brendan’s just discovering girls, who are way more complicated than anything he’s ever tried to study. His dad has gone back to school to finish his degree. His parents are hoping to adopt a baby. Brendan’s new relationship with his grandfather is still developing. Frazier uses a light touch with the material, skipping easily from topic to topic at a pace just right for our young hero. He’s a likeable kid, trying to do the right thing. His confusion as he applies his scientific mind to figuring out family, school, and girls is sensitively and sympathetically portrayed, yet lightened with a good dose of humor. This is fun, realistic, contemporary middle grade fiction. Suggest to fans of Lisa Yee‘s Rancho Rosetta books and Tom Angleberger‘s Origami Yoda.

On shelves January 10, 2012.

 

Final Word:
Brendan Buckley is growing up in this sweet, lighthearted, realistic tale.

 

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request.

 

 

View all my reviews

Related Posts: