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