The Wonder Of Us by Kim Culbertson

The Blurb On The Back:

Abby and Riya are:

best friends

complete opposites

living on different continents

currently mad at each other

about to travel around Europe

Since Riya moved away with her family to Berlin, she and Abby have struggled to be there for one another, and they haven’t spoken in weeks.  But Riya is pretty sure she knows the perfect way to make things better – a grand tour of European cities.  Two weeks, six countries, unimaginable fun.

Can the lush countrysides and dazzling cities of Europe fix their friendship, or does growing up mean growing apart?

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

17-year-old Abby Byrd lives in Yuba Ridge, California with her dad (her mum having left the family several months earlier to move in with Abby’s dentist and her sister, Kate, has left to go to college in Oregon). Her best friend is Riya who she’s hung out with since primary school but last summer Riya and her family moved to Berlin for a year and although they promised to stay in touch, the contact between them faded out until April when they had a massive fight over Skype and haven’t spoken since …

Not until Riya sent Abby a letter and plane tickets to Florence, Italy.  Riya’s grandmother is paying for Riya and Abby to spend two and a half week’s touring six locations in Europe and Riya’s sure that this will fix things between them. But Abby isn’t so sure and given that Riya’s annoying older cousin Neel has been sent to chaperone the pair of them and he’s keeping to them to an irritatingly intense schedule, they’re both worried that far from fixing their friendship, it could break their friendship up for good …

Kim Culbertson’s contemporary YA novel is a believable look at teenage friendship and how it changes as people grow and seek out new experiences and new people and although I could have done without the obligatory romance element (which never convinced me) and the European tour element is a bit hokey, I did for the most part believe in Abby and Riya and I liked how Culbertson doesn’t offer pat resolutions to her characters’ issues.

The main reason to read this book is because of the relationship between Abby and Riya and I liked how Culbertson used their alternative narratives to set out each’s view of their friendship and the frustrations and love that they have for each other.  She’s particularly good on showing their personalities through their narration (Riya flirty, excited and open to everything that Europe has to offer; Abby more cautious and still hurt over her parents’ divorce and what she perceives as Riya’s abandonment of her) and I enjoyed the way she shows the arguments between them – both the build up and the aftermath.

I did find Abby’s “quirk” of getting locked in rooms a bit of a contrivance, as is Riya’s device of linking European cities to the seven wonders of the world (something that Abby is fascinated by). In fact the European element is a little hackneyed (in part because I’ve read a number of YA novels over the past 12 months that tie in self-discovery with a European vacation so it’s become a bit stale for me) but I thought Culbertson did well in showing the variety of people who you meet on such trips, each impacting on the girls and their adventure before drifting off onto their own journey without ever making a reappearance on the page.

I really wasn’t struck on the romance element that develops between Neel and Abby – mainly because there’s so little chemistry between them but it’s not helped by Neel’s snobby, English caricature of a girlfriend appearing to introduce some kind of tension.

For all that though, the central friendship did ring true for me and I admire the fact that Culbertson doesn’t settle for a pat resolution to this story – but instead has an ending that rings true for each character while emphasising how they’ve each grown.  For that reason, I think it’s definitely worth a look because it’s quite rare to read a YA book that does that.

 

THE WONDER OF US was released in the United Kingdom on 3rdMay 2018.  Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy of this book.

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