As the last few months of school approach, it is common for college seniors to feel anxious about their futures. About to finally exit the college bubble and enter the real world, many of these students will find themselves at a crossroads that is simultaneous liberating and terrifying. Some may be taking more conventional routes, like searching for jobs or planning for graduate school, but others may choose to travel – to succumb to the allure of the open road.
In his debut semi-autobiographical novel, Young Wanderlust,” University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst graduate Evan Kenward recounts his post-grad experiences traveling across the United States in search of that perfect road trip, that essential experience that, he says, defines the U.S. and its youth.
The great American road story
Americans have always loved a good road story. From Jack Kerouac’s paramount “On the Road” (1957) to Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1971), young Americans, hungry for adventure and trouble, set out searching for the greatest landmarks across these United States and, of course, for themselves. But with the changing narrative that the digital age presents, it can be hard for students to act upon their own wanderlust. Smart phones and social media make any landmark location visible via Google Maps and creating Pinterest boards of dream vacations is easier than actually getting a group of friends in a car and driving to those places. Yet Kenward says that this kind of cross-country exploration provides an education just as valuable as a four-year liberal arts degree.
“I think that it is essential to experience newness and go outside of one’s comfort zone and see different parts of the country and the world,” Kenward said of his motivations for traveling. “It’s an education.”
To find out more, reading his book is a must. It recounts Kenward’s angst after his 2008 college graduation: bored with his hometown and the security of central Massachusetts, and frustrated with how easily some of his friends had become homebodies after receiving their degrees, he decided to hit the road.
Although Kenward studied abroad in Italy during his junior year of college, he still wanted to see more of what his native North America had to offer – and he also wanted his best friends to be a part of his trip.
“I truly believe that [the draw of] driving across [the] country in America has been written in our culture and DNA for a very long time,” Kenward said.
At the beginning of his journey in the novel, Kenward’s attitude is perhaps typical of a recent graduate – he is equal parts arrogant and insecure. Rather than looking for a job, his biggest goal is to bring his best friends with him as they travel from the northeast to California to Canada and back again. Impulsive and moody, he focuses more on immediate pleasures than long-term success: “If there was one thing that college taught me, it was how to party,” he writes.
Therefore, if there is one thing that traveling across the country teaches him, it’s how to see things in a new light and with an open mind. As the novel unfolds, he experiences a reinvigorated liveliness that comes from spending time on the road and talking to people from backgrounds vastly different from his standard suburban upbringing in New England.
According to Kenward, he is influenced by a variety of artists, whether they be writers, musicians or visual artists.
“[I am inspired by] any artist that creates a production more than just [by those that stick] within their medium,” he said, pointing to the unrestricted writing style of Dave Eggers and the pure showmanship and artistry of Pink Floyd as particular favorites.
Like his diverse sources of inspiration, Kenward also incorporates a wide range of media into his own book. Rather than being a straight travel diary, the book features recipes and lists, as well