I love travel, and I love diversity, and I think there are really interesting, important stories about diversity and immigration and identity and belonging in all places and all times, but perhaps especially right now in the US. And who am I kidding- I don’t mind a good contemporary romance in it’s place either. But these two books both let me down, by being unoriginal and not quite what I wanted. (this post is dedicated to my mother who thinks I review too many books that I loved)
Wanderlost is not a bad book. It’s just not a different book. I have read other books which are more or less the same: sheltered girl goes to Europe (for some reason, it’s always Europe), falls in love, discovers herself, etc. While I did like the old age aspect, I felt like so much more could have been done with it; and stories based on lies always bother me, because when the lie is discovered, the same thing tends to happen.
Aubree is a sheltered girl from inland USA. Her sister is the high achiever, and she just sort of floats along and does her own thing and is quite happy about it. She isn’t a very complicated person. She doesn’t like unfamiliar food. But circumstances force her to pretend to be her sister and lead a tour of senior citizens through Europe. (seriously YA authors, people can discover themselves outside of Europe. I live in India, and there are places where every second person you meet is a young person discovering themselves in India. It’s really rather cloying.) She sees the sights, falls in love with the cities, tells a lot of lies, and learns to cope with adverse circumstances! and meets a nice boy who conveniently is American and speaks English! And does adventurous things and realises that there’s more to life than a backwater town. Aubree wasn’t that bland of a character, but she isn’t that different to Anna from Anna and the French Kiss and the 13 Little Blue envelopes girl, or Allyson from Just One Day, or any of the others.
I really liked the old people in this book They were lively characters, and interesting, and totally defied stereotypes and generally made the story more interesting. The love interest, Sam was okay too. He was capable and smart and kind, and kept things interesting.
The other thing that bothered me in this book was the lying. Aubree pretends to be someone else. This, again, I’ve seen in a million other books, and it turned out the way that those did as well: there are consequences to lying, surprise! I did like how Aubree’s character developed, but nothing felt new or fresh about it, really. Lying bothers me, because it may be that I’ve read too much YA, but the characters ALWAYS are found out.
Read this book if you like light ‘n’ easy contemporaries that aren’t different to anything else that’s been written with some colourful side characters, not if you want something wildly original which will change how you see the world.
This book is okay. I think it had important things to say about culture and family and identity and belonging and success, but those messages were swamped in banal words about first love and really cheesy dialogue. (really, would parents actually say ‘butt out”?)
Jasmine is a cool character. She’s capable, smart, a cheerleader, and a good friend. Royce is also a cool character. He’s smart, though he struggles with dyslexia, and kind and considerate. Jasmine and Royce are the sort of characters who populate YA: good people in bad situations who are in love with each other and know that together they’ll be okay even though sometimes they fight and are quite hot and cold which really provides too much of the plot of the novel. (Yes, that was a run-on sentence. I’m just rolling with it.) They weren’t boring, and I did like their families and culture, but they weren’t new either, and that meant this story lost a lot of it’s power.
I also think that the story of undocumented immigrants is important. (especially with the election). Why people take the risk to come to the US is important, but beyond ‘we wanted a better life for our children’ it is not really explained. The realisation that Royce has that causes a lot of drama at the end of the book is something which I totally saw coming. de la Cruz, for whatever reason, offers a very simplistic view of the US. The immigration system is flawed, but the US is inherently good. Even without what we’ve seen this week, there are flaws in the US, which are relevant to this book and totally ignored: the overpriced, privatised university system; the extreme capitalism; the reliance on jet fuel and the consequences for the environment, and so much more. That isn’t mentioned though. This book could have been so much more nuanced and powerful if that had been brought up.
Also, we are told that Jasmine’s family is relatively poor, and her mum loses her job. But they have a TV, and Jasmine has a laptop, and I just felt like that message was inconsistent.
Stuff happens in this book, and it turns out okay (that’s why the promo for this book has a ‘fairytales IRL’ tag on booktube.) It’s not a bad immigrant story, and it’s not a bad love story, and the characters aren’t bad, but there is so much that is missing, and that could have been there. It’s not unenjoyable to read: but ultimately, this story of firsts and belonging lacks the nuances I was longing to read about.
So well done on getting through this long double review. Have you ever read a book that feels like it doesn’t need to exist because it had nothing to add to the genre? Or a book that was filled with missed opportunities? Tell me if you’ve read any amazing contemporary books recently.