Book Review: The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson

Wonder of Us reasons to read

The first thought I had when I read the blurb for this book was UM, YES PLEASE.
A once in a lifetime European trip? Complex friendship dynamics and angst? GIMMIE. So many thanks to Walker Books for mailing an advanced reader copy so it could find its way into my grabby hands!

Riya and Abby are:
Best friends.  Complete opposites.  Living on different continents.  Currently mad at each other.  About to travel around Europe.
Riya moved to Berlin, Germany, with her family for junior year, while Abby stayed behind in their small California town. They thought it would be easy to keep up their friendship—it’s only a year and they’ve been best friends since preschool. But instead, they ended up fighting and not being there for the other. So Riya proposes an epic adventure to fix their friendship. Two weeks, six countries, unimaginable fun. But two small catches:

They haven’t talked in weeks.
They’ve both been keeping secrets.
Can Riya and Abby find their way back to each other among lush countrysides and dazzling cities, or does growing up mean growing apart?

I think The Wonder of Us is a book that most people can relate to.  We can all think back to a childhood friendship we had when we were younger. The kind where you cross your heart to be BFFs forever, and you have no doubt in your mind that when you grow up you will go to the same school and university, and then rent a flat together because when you’re young, that’s the dream, right? Except, it rarely works out that way. People change and grow, and life takes people in different directions, and that friendship chord is sometimes stretched to breaking point.

This is where we find Abby and Riya. After Riya goes off to have the time of her life in Berlin when her parents move abroad, Abby is left alone in their small town with a sense of abandonment. and she’s also reeling from her parent’s unexpected marriage breakdown. The tonic for this? Riya has arranged an epic European adventure across 6 countries worthy of making the reader jealous. Seriously, CAN I HITCH A RIDE WITH THESE GUYS PLEASE?!? So many of the places they visit are on my bucket list!! I won’t list them here though, as half the fun is not knowing where the characters will go next.

Wonder of Us

Throughout the novel, we see Abby and Riya’s friendship being dismantled block by block, almost toppled, and then slowly and hesitantly rebuilt like a game of Jenga. For Abby, there’s the resentment of being left behind, the insecurity that she is no longer exciting enough for her friend, and also anger that her friend wasn’t there for her in her time of need. For Riya, there’s the frustration that her best friend doesn’t understand her need to explore and experience, her annoyance that Abby can’t just be happy for her, and the guilt of not feeling bad enough about leaving Abby behind to pursue her dreams. Their opposing introvert and extrovert personality types also mean they struggle to understand each other. While Riya thrives and gets energy from people and being out there, Abby clings to the familiar and is content to spend her time chilling and watching TV in her pajamas.

As the characters make their way through each country seeing the sighs, they slowly explore their issues and try to resolve them. There are also some fun side characters and a dash of romance to help them along the way. The girls are chaperoned by Riya’s nerdy, uptight British cousin, Neel, and they also come across eccentric characters on their travels, from cute boys to professors.

However, I did struggle with this novel at some points, because I found the structure quite formulaic. After the first two chapters, I felt like I could predict what would happen in the remaining ones. The girls would explore a famous sight, start having a heart to heart that would get interrupted leaving unresolved issues, which would result in a bust-up in the evening. While this is not exactly bad, I found myself lacking the agency to propel myself through the story to find out how it ended, and it took me longer to finish the novel than it should have done.

I also struggled with the dual narrative style. While I really enjoyed Kim Culbertson’s writing, I don’t think the dual narrative was totally successful. I love this technique when it’s done well, but I often found myself forgetting whether I was reading from Riya or Abby’s perspective, because their voices were almost indistinguishable, which was a real shame.

Overall, The Wonder of Us was a cute, fun and lightweight read perfect for getting me in the mood for summer. I could relate to the friendship struggles on SO MANY levels, and it made me think back to the ghosts of friendships past. While I wouldn’t call The Wonder of Us a ‘must read’, if you love books about travel and friendship dynamics in YA (like me) you’ll enjoy it for sure!
The Wonder of Us will be released on the 3rd May, so go grab a copy!


Let’s Chat! Do you think you will read The Wonder of Us? Do you also love books centred around travel and friendship dynamics like me? If so, please send me your recommendations as I would love to discover more books like this!

Wonder of Us Travel

Writing Style: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Entertainment: 4/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes

Overall: 3/5

11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson

  1. I just realised that most of the travel books I read are actually non-fiction, and actually *most* of the non-fiction I read are travel stories!

    How does this compare to “Remix” by Non Pratt? It sounds like it has a similar premise – fallen out friends try and patch things up by going away together…

    • Hm, well that’s interesting because most of the travel books I read are fiction. I think I’ve only read one non-fiction travel book and that was The Lonely Planet guide to Italy, ha! Any particularly good travel non-fiction recs?

      I would say I enjoyed Remix slightly more. It is quite a similar premise but with a very different setting, and although both books are about friendships drifting apart they both have very different reasons behind why. Friendship dynamics-wise I liked them both equally, writing-wise Pratt tops it!

      • I’m an armchair explorer and an Antarctica addict, so I own Shackleton’s “Endeavour” and the wonderfully named George Benet Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s “Worst Journey in the World”.

        Bill Bryson is a great and witty travel writer, but he’s very Marmite: Love him or hate him. I’d recommend “Notes from a Small Island” and “A Walk in the Woods” as his best books.

  2. Nice use of those six drawing pins on that map Becky!
    We read that you’re not mentioning the locations and HEY, there’s a map , of EU
    With pins!
    Very clever!!
    I’m imagining this was done on purpose by a genius woman seeking the like minded ,,
    TRAVEL yes
    GIRLS yes
    Hmmm FRIENDSHIP dynamics , OK

    it’s good to read of you’re experience’s with books and life,
    And oh man!!! i need to get me a copy of American gods ,I live fairly close to Antarctica, so yeah the mind Bogle’s with that one.
    God it’s quiet ,

      • OH YIPES I see! You’ve gone DEMENTED!! , I mentioned the quiet eerie-nessness , the lack of commentors then is the reason for the pins , I’m guessing there’s other maps , other PIN’S!
        Just the two of us left!!

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