Synopsis: It 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.
I instantly regret promising to write a full review of this book. I honestly have no idea if I can. Even rating this was, like, really hard. Took the whole time of writing the review, you guys.
First, I want to say it’s unfair how much I love this book. It should be undeniably dumb, right? Look at the COVER. It’s awful. Even the synopsis is pretty cringey. And it’s YA contemporary, and I’ve absolutely given up on that genre for the moment because I can’t deal with the constant disappointment. (I resurrected myself to read Open Road Summer after two contemporary-free months, and look how well that worked out.)
And yet here we are. Stuck between 4 and 5 stars. An impressive showing from the underdog!
Well, not really. I knew I was going to like this book – that’s why I reread it. In anticipation of the fact that I’m leaving for Vietnam tomorrow. Isn’t that bananas?! I can hardly believe it!
Anyway. (Can you tell I’m putting off writing this?) I have been wanting to reread this book for at least 7 months, but I keep putting it off because I seem to be cursed to hate everything I want to love. And I reallyreallyreally didn’t want to hate this book.
But then – miracle of all miracles – I didn’t hate it at all! In fact, I loved it! Way, way more than I expected! It surpassed my wildest expectations, defeated my most rose-tinted memories, etc. etc.
Until…I rolled past the 250 page mark. And things took a turn for the worse. (Am I cursed? Like, actually? Is that a thing?)
But let’s start with the good stuff! I am absolutely enamored with any book that centers on travel. Give me road trips, give me backpackers, hell, give me tour groups through Europe’s biggest clichés. Actually, don’t give me the last one. The last one sounds boring. I’m looking at you, Wanderlost. (Remember how I spent that whole review thinking about this book? Ah, memories.)
ANYWAY. Travel books aren’t always well done, though. I want visceral descriptions. Primarily, I want to feel like I’m there, and like I want to really go. I want to feel, at the end, like I’ve been bitten by the travel bug. This book definitely, one hundred percent accomplished that. I think I’ll have to give it 5 stars because of it. That’s what matters to me.
So much about this book is just cool. The characters backpack, which is different from the usual YA travel-centered book. It takes place in Central America, which is VERY different from that usual.
It’d be easy for this book to fall into some problematic-ness, but for the most part, it avoids that. Deftly. There are some stumbles early on with what could be perceived as a condescending look at life in other countries, but it’s solved by character development and addressed directly.
Plus, there’s the fact that white Americans carrying a backpack full of their privilege through developing countries is often considered problematic in and of itself. The main character discusses this, and ultimately the other characters provide what I see as an apt argument against it.
Also, another really important thing: Rowan is my boyfriend. I’m calling dibs on him right now. (Benefits of reading a fairly underrated contemporary.) Yes, he has a ponytail, which is not ideal, but EVERYTHING ELSE about him is great. Nice, pretty funny, allegedly good-looking, and KNOWS HOW TO BACKPACK THROUGH CENTRAL AMERICA. It’s the dream, my friends.
But now…the bad. It’s the last 50-75 pages or so. What had been, in my opinion, a travel-centered book with some classic romantic tension and drama thrown in suddenly…switches. We lose most of those gorgeous descriptions in favor of Bria pining over Rowan. Which, like, I get it. Same. But can we take it down a notch?
And then it all gets worse with the ending. This is a spoiler-free review, so I’ll just say it’s…a lot. And it doesn’t fit with the rest. What had been a great book about travel ends up any other contemporary.
But the huge huge huge amount of love I have for the first 250 pages will overcome all of that. (Wait, now that I think of it, it’s the middle 200. I skipped the first 50 in this reread to get right to the backpacking part.)
Okay, yeah. This book is so great. You feel like you’re in Central America. (At least to me. I’ve never been.) I spent the whole night reading backpackers’ blogs after I finished this, even though I had a paper due in the morning. (I turned that paper in, by the way. It’s abysmal. I’m trying not to think about it.)
Bottom line: This book is criminally underrated and you should all read it. I love it. (And if you have any recommendations for travel-y books, send them my way!)