Book Title:
Beneath Wandering Stars
Book Author:
Ashlee Cowles
Publishing Date:
August 1st, 2016
Publisher:
Merit Press
Date Read:
August 12th, 2016
Source:
I received a copy from the publisher

Synopsis

After her soldier brother is horribly wounded in Afghanistan, Gabriela must honor the vow she made: If anything ever happened to him, she would walk the Camino de Santiago through Spain, making a pilgrimage in his name. The worst part is that the promise stipulates that she must travel with her brother's best friend--a boy she has despised all her life. Her brother is in a coma, and Gabi feels that she has no time to waste, but she is unsure. Will she hesitate too long, or risk her own happiness to keep a promise? An up-close look at the lives of the children of military families, "Beneath Wandering Stars" takes readers on a journey of love, danger, laughter, and friendship, against all odds

My Review

Gabriela, or Gabi, as everyone calls her, has spent her life growing up on army bases with her parents and her brother.  Her father is a member of the military, and the family has moved around quite often.  They are currently located at a base in Germany, although Gabi wants nothing more than to be back in Texas with her friends and her boyfriend.  This is Gabi’s main goal for after she graduates high school – get back to Texas, and away from the military life.

Growing up, Gabi and her brother, Lucas, have always been close – in fact, they knew pretty much everything about each other and were best friends throughout their lives.

“Lucas is only eleven months older, so we’ve always been close.  But after that day, he never let go.  Not until he followed in Dad’s footsteps and joined a war that started when he was still playing with G.I. Joes.”

When Lucas is badly injured and brought home in a coma, Gabi is beside herself with grief – especially when she is told that there is a chance he might not wake up.  Lucas’s best friend,  Seth, who has come home with him, has come home with a message for Gabi and her family – a wish of Lucas’s, even if he could not complete it himself.  Gabi, her father, and Lucas will walk the Camino de Santiago – a spiritual pilgrimage through Spain that will take them several weeks to complete – walking the entire way.  Gabi wants to do this, even though Lucas won’t able to do the walk himself.  Instead, he made it known long ago that if for any reason he would not be able to join them on the pilgrimage, then Seth would take his place.

Gabi is hesitant about this at first, and doesn’t get her hopes up, because she figures her father will change his mind and stop pushing the issue.  But when Gabi’s father is not granted time away from the army, Gabi starts to find herself pushing to go anyway, just with Seth.

Despite her father’s wishes, she sets off on the pilgrimage anyway, with Seth – a guy who she has never much cared for.  What follows is a journey of spiritual growth, lessons, and faith that she might return to see her brother has healed.

When I first read about Beneath Wandering Stars, I was super excited for it.  It seemed like it was going to be a book that had a huge amount of depth, feelings, and emotions that were going to make it not only a beautiful read, but a heart wrenching one, as well.  The entire premise for the novel definitely delivered, but there were a few parts about this novel that I just didn’t really care for.

The entire book was full of culture, which made it stand out among other YA novels that I’ve read.  A lot of attention was paid to the detail in this book, from Gabi’s feelings to their surroundings on the Camino de Santiago.  To be honest, there were multiple times when the wonderful descriptions made it feel like I was there along with them.  The characters that Gabi and Seth meet along the way are fun, quirky, and interesting, and have some important lessons to teach.

I think the main problem I had with this book was with Gabi’s character.  She was very, very immature for her age, and the way her emotions ran wild made her seem incredibly bratty, and truthfully somewhat annoying.  I found myself actually cringing once or twice because of how she acted.  Her lack of development and growth throughout the entire novel up until the ending just had me rolling my eyes and wishing she would just grow up already.  Her brother was in the hospital in a coma, and she cared more about ridiculous and petty things.

Seth’s character was a delight – probably my favorite in the book.  He had seen a lot of things, and the heartbreaking revelation near the end of the book was something that could destroy anyone.  I don’t really know why he put up with Gabi, let alone had any kind of spark there for her.

The book was a bit on the slower paced side – and since the majority of the novel takes place with Gabi and Seth walking the Camino de Santiago, not much really happens except walking and talking.  I’ve been reading a lot of faster paced books, so I guess I was hoping that there would be a little bit more going on, but I kind of figured, based on the description, that there wouldn’t be.  Still, it was a joy to read, and the writing was simply lovely.  I honestly didn’t know anything about the Camino de Santiago, so this book taught me a lot about the pilgrimage and the culture of the people in Spain.  I love a book that teaches me something as I’m reading it, so for that reason, I would definitely recommend this.

The ending of this came as a surprise – I thought that it was going to end a lot differently than it did…needless to say, it was bittersweet on a few different levels, but still felt like the perfect ending.  I’m hoping that there is going to be either a short story or even a followup to this novel, though, because I’m curious to see what happens next.

3.5 stars
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