As part of our ongoing collaboration with the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, our writers have accepted the challenge of reading and reviewing pre-publication review copies of highly anticipated young adult literature. The reviews are posted here for our readers, but also will be sent to the Book House where they will hopefully be used to inform customers about the books they may want to purchase.We will try to publish one review a week for the spring.
The reviews contain spoilers, so be forewarned!
By Jen Malone
Published May, 2016
316 pages, HarperCollins
Leading a bus trip of senior citizens across Europe is just how everyone wants to spend their last summer before college, right? Maybe not so much. Unfortunately, this is how Aubree Sadler has to spend her summer in Wanderlost, by Jen Malone. This impromptu trip is full of surprises, lies, and romance as it proves to be a big turning point in Aubree’s life that many teens her age can relate to.
It was originally Aubree’s over-achieving older sister, Elizabeth, who was supposed to lead the bus tour over the summer. But after the cops arrested Elizabeth for providing alcohol to underage drinkers at a party of Aubree’s all of her plans go down the drain. Elizabeth can’t leave the state since she’s on bail and she has to go on this tour to impress a congressman for whom she wants to work in the fall. This leaves only one option: to have Aubree take over Elizabeth’s tour while pretending to be her older sister. Aubree doesn’t want to go–she isn’t confident in her abilities as a tour guide and has never left the country–but she is guilted by Elizabeth into going along with their carefully constructed plan.
Everything is fine until that plan falls apart before Aubree even meets her tour group. She loses her cell phone, Aubree’s vital link to her sister, and Elizabeth’s binder packed full of hotel dates and European history. Aubree desperately tries to keep herself together, but “panic attacks threaten” as she tries to navigate this foreign environment alone (43). Scared and nervous, Aubree still has no choice but to go on with the tour. She manages to lead a fairly good bus trip once she gets to know the senior citizens and becomes more comfortable being in charge. She even copes with the arrival of a new, young traveler–the tour company manager’s son, Sam–and forms a relationship with him. However, Aubree keeps building lies upon lies and her false identity soon becomes obvious to one of the passengers, Mr. Fenton, who attempts to convince her to confess her true self. As he wisely says, “Taking ownership over your mistakes is about as grown up as it gets” (245). Aubree is going to take his advice but Sam finds out about her identity before she can tell him herself, and their relationship almost falls apart. The tour falls apart, too, as the manager finds out who Aubree really is and her time with the tour has to end, since she’s not insured by the company. In the end, Sam forgives Aubree and she bravely decides to continue on her European adventures alone but more confident than she was at the beginning.
One of the many themes present in Wanderlost is, of course, lying and its consequences. Aubree tells little lies every day during the tour to her passengers, as well as bigger lies to her mother, who thinks she’s in Maine, and Sam, who thinks Aubree is Elizabeth. Aubree lies for a multitude of reasons, but the main one is that she wants to protect her sister so she can get the job she wants. This protection of Elizabeth is also motivated, in part, by Aubree’s longtime desire to prove her maturity and capability to her perfect older sister. Of course, she runs into big trouble with these lies as she lies to Sam even after they become romantically involved. Sam has a history with lies involving his mother and father, and even though Aubree knows this she continues to be untruthful. After her deception is exposed, Aubree is left feeling guilty and faces relationship strains with both Sam and her sister. A big lesson that can be taken from this is how lies build up one after the other and, no matter how small, all lies have negative impacts on relationships. People lie for many reasons, as is shown in the book, but all lies feel bad after a while. Aubree says that she felt horrible “to have to lie so often and for so long, to so many people” (296). Aubree learned her lesson well, and it’s safe to say that Malone was successful in getting this message across to the reader.
Another big theme present is the idea of maturity and independence in the context of becoming an adult. In the beginning of the novel, Aubree is inexperienced and nervous, but at the end she is more capable and mature after going on her solo trip. This transformation she undergoes happens in every young adult’s life at different times for different people. In stressing Aubree’s personal growth, Malone makes important the idea of becoming independent through exploration of new situations, no matter how scary they may be at first. Aubree didn’t even think she “could get [herself] across the ocean in one piece, but all that changed” once she was pushed out of her comfort zone during the tour (312).
Overall, Wanderlost is an exciting novel to read. It teaches valuable lessons while taking the reader on a whirlwind trip through Europe with Aubree, and it’s funny at the same time. I found it especially easy to relate to this book since I took a trip to Europe similar to Aubree’s about a year ago, though it was smaller and more chaperoned. It pleased the romantic in me to read about Aubree and Sam falling in love in such beautiful cities as Prague, Venice, and Vienna. It was also heart-warming to watch Aubree form real relationships with her senior citizen passengers, who were not as boring as she feared they would be at the start of her trip.
However, like any book, Malone’s novel did have a few shortcomings. I felt like the main characters sometimes seemed fake, and it felt hard to really picture them as real people. Aubree tended to be over-the-top enthusiastic and emotional, which distanced me from her as a reader. The language used and the way Malone writes make the book suitable for younger YA readers, though the characters are older which was a bit confusing for me at times.
Other than those two problems, though, Wanderlost was an excellent read that I will definitely come back to if I ever want to reminisce about my own days in Europe or laugh at some surprisingly young at heart senior citizens’ antics.