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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The Backpack Years: Two Memoirs, One Story by husband and wife authors Stefanie and James Wilson is the story of two young people from different sides of the Atlantic who meet and fall in love in Australia while they were both on their overseas experience. Stefanie was a young American from Pittsburgh who left her planned future to travel the world and experience some fun before she settled down into a teaching career. James was an accounting trainee in Manchester who not only hated his career and his future but was deeply in debt to credit card and loan companies. Determined to leave his problems behind, at least for a while, James was traveling the world seeking new experiences. In an Irish pub in Sydney’s King’s Cross, Stef and James would find each other and begin a relationship that was at times long-distance, but would also involve one or both of them having to make momentous decisions if they truly wanted to stay together. After traveling all over Australia, New Zealand, and South East Asia, the couple finally settled in London but British immigration rules and a continued wanderlust hampered and threatened their relationship. It seemed to both of them that their love only really worked when they were traveling the world and experiencing new and exciting adventures and cultures.
The Backpack Years is an interesting read both for the world travel aspect and the different cultures Stefanie and James Wilson were immersed in but also because it is essentially the same story told from vastly different perspectives. I particularly appreciated the fact that the story was told in the participants' own vernacular and no attempt was made to sanitize or harmonize the language and colloquialisms used by Stef and James. The glossary of terms at the end of the book will certainly help those unfamiliar with either the English or American terms. For me, the best part of this memoir is the frank honesty and rawness of the two authors' feelings at different stages of their relationship and their journey. There is no hiding behind clichés and happy smiles during stress and anxiety. The pair was prepared to open themselves up totally to the reader and tell the best but also the worst of their journey together. Despite the seemingly never-ending problems and even medical issues that the pair faced, one thing that shone through on every page was their dedication to each other and their determination to see this journey through to the end – together. As someone who lives in South East Asia, the journeys through Thailand, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Cambodia, and elsewhere and the cultures the pair encountered resonated with me. I loved that because they were backpackers, these were no flashy, smart, 5-star hotels, and some of the accommodation and the people they encountered had me chuckling and nodding in recognition. This is a fun and gentle read and one I can highly recommend.