The wonder of us by Kim Culbertson
Walker Books, 2018. ISBN 9781406377170
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended . Friendship on the brink, after spending a school year in different countries? Struggling with your parent's divorce in a little country town while your best friend since kindergarten is swanning around Europe? How do two best friends reconnect when distance would otherwise have them drifting apart? First, Riya invites Abby to Europe, arranging an epic tour through six countries to show Abby, the history nerd, as many sights of interest as they can squeeze in. Not entirely altruistic, Riya intends to tell Abby at the last stop, that she's not coming back to California to graduate and attend college with her.
An overbearing chaperone, Riya's cousin Neel, is the catalyst for most of the misadventures in the story. Neel isn't letting the girls out of his sight but they have other ideas. The early tension is mostly between the two cousins. Neel has relationship problems of his own as Riya and Abby spend much of their time squabbling and making up amidst a wonderfully cosmopolitan backdrop.
This travelogue across Europe, hops predictably between historical locations metaphorically linked to the seven wonders of the ancient world. Kim Culbertson and her research assistants, have styled these cities appealingly into the section divisions of the novel. The theme of shared childhoods being a foundation for a lifelong friendship despite geographical separation is built incrementally by changing narrators in alternating chapters. Fittingly, the girls have contrasting personalities and interests - Riya enrols in a drama course and Abby plans a future based on her passion for history. The light romance thread is suitable for tweens but Culbertson's craft accentuates the key message - that two friends can grow up to follow different destinies without necessarily growing apart. The last 'wonder' might be that the author discusses all manner of relationship break-ups without leaving the 'Clean Literature' category.