The Wonder of Us – Kim Culbertson

A fun story, and perfect for my frame of mind because I started and finished this book while on a plane back from a semester abroad in Zurich, Switzerland. Imagine my joy to discover that Zurich was one of the locations visited here!

Synopsis

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?

Review

A fun story, and perfect for my frame of mind because I started and finished this book while on a plane back from a semester abroad in Zurich, Switzerland. Imagine my joy to discover that Zurich was one of the locations visited here!

Above all, this is a story of friendship. Then it’s a story of travel. And then maybe it’s one of love? Although let’s be real — the love here is just like any you’d find: on vacation/at camp/on a cruise/during a summer away from regular life (fill in with your favourite). Totally circumstantial and fun, but without much substance!

Florence was a fun place to start, and it’s good that Abby’s a history buff because that’s the only true way to appreciate Europe. Of course, most of Abby’s perspective felt very American to me — it shocks me how many Americans prefer the comfort of what they’re used to and hate seeing the world. There are exceptions for sure, but I definitely know quite a few “Abby”s out there and hope they become more open-minded.

Now let’s talk about Zurich, because that’s MY PLACE. I have to commend Kim Culbertson for including so many details, since it seems like she hasn’t visited many (if any?) of these locations herself. It seems like a lot of research was involved, so kudos to her! Nothing made me grin like references to the grossmunster, fraumunster, Limmat river, and Bahnhofstrasse. I was literally walking down that street last week! People DO paddleboard and paddleboat on Lake Zurich (for free), and there’s nothing quite like relaxing by the Chinagarten or jumping off the Dynamo Bridge (not actually mentioned in the book). Some points of clarification, based on personal experience: hot chocolate in Zurich is definitely NOT the best in the world. I’m not a fan of milk + chocolate submerged into it. I got something called “cold chocolate” for $8CHF, and it was literally chocolate milk. Disappointing. Maybe Sprungli is better, but that chocolate store is way, way overpriced. Love that they ate some gipfels from a bakery, but the locals will really grab a schinkengipfel from Migros takeaway (a grocery store) in Zurich HB (train station). Neel and his friends went clubbing in Zurich. Good luck with that! Zurich is famously known for a horrible clubbing scene, with locals heading as far as Basel to party. But yes, I can totally believe a young guy in Switzerland would have a BMW (that’s SO Swiss).

Other comments: I loved that they visited the Rigi! I didn’t make it there and I totally regretted it. Lucerne is also an AMAZING place, but very touristy. Still, it has such a perfect combination of mountains + sea. Also, their stay on a night train was so reminiscent of my own night train experience in Vienna. Love.

I haven’t visited most of the other destinations (I’ve been to London, but not Berlin, Iceland, Scotland, or that small town in California), but definitely felt that sense of adventure and exploration deep in my bones. Riya and Abby are totally different people, and their friendship is going to change over time. But it’s still going to stick around and matter in their lives.

This quote resonated with me so hard: “Even if I didn’t like to hang out with certain people or go to their parties, I still had an underlying need to be part of the place around me.” Riya, I am you minus some of the angst!

Related Reading

  • Love & Gelato – Jenna Evans Welch
  • Summer in the Invisible City – Juliana Romano
  • Anna and the French Kiss; Isla and the Happily Ever After – Stephanie Perkins
  • The Loose Ends List – Carrie Firestone
  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes – Maureen Johnson

Rating: 3/5

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