Check out the blurb here...
Riya and Abby are: Best friends. Complete opposites. Living on different continents. About to embark on an epic adventure 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? Perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins, Maggie Harcourt and David Levithan, this witty and vivid story is the ideal holiday read.
So without any further ado, here is Kim on my blog to talk all things The Wonder of Us, female friendships and the joy of summer road trip novels!
What was the inspiration behind The Wonder of Us?
At the time I began to write this book, I was teaching a wonderful group of teen writers. One afternoon, I was meeting with a young man about his fiction and he seemed distracted. He explained that he was worried about a friendship that had always been close, but as they were both heading into their final year of school, seemed suddenly strained. It wasn’t the first time one of my students had expressed this worry to me. Throughout my years as a teacher, I’ve seen many students struggle with their friendships changing, especially as they neared graduation. When I was brainstorming ideas with my editor, this seemed like an interesting question to tackle – does growing up means growing apart?
Tell us a bit more about the main characters, Riya and Abby. Do you have anything in common with them?
Both of these girls hold parts of my heart. I share an interest in history with Abby (her focus is the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World and I enjoyed studying these when I was writing the book). Riya’s current main interest is theatre and I taught theatre for many years and still have an involvement in local children’s theatre so that was a connection for me with Riya. I also thought it would be interesting to look at more introverted Abby and more extroverted Riya to investigate how these personality differences can impact character relationships. I am more of an extrovert and my husband and daughter are both introverts, so that has been an education in personality differences over the years. It has been interesting even in the emails I’ve received from readers because often people tend to side with Abby or Riya depending on whether they are more introverted or extroverted. It doesn’t seem like it should matter but it does.
Do you normally come up with plot or characters first?
Characters always come first for me. In fact, my editor might chuckle at this question because I am so far on the side of character-driven narrative that I often have to remind myself to think about plot. Still, I feel like most plotting, at least in the books I write, comes out of character motivation and decision: what does a character want? What is in a character’s way? What are the cross-purposes between one character and another? For me, plot is just a timeline in which all of these tensions play out.
What made you want to write a summer road trip novel, all about friendship?
I knew I wanted to write a novel about female friendship because I believe we need to value this discussion more in YA novels, this idea that often our first loves are the friends in our lives before romance ever becomes part of things. I chose a summer road trip structure for a couple of reasons. Perhaps because I spent so many years in school and then as a teacher, summer has always held the promise of change for me. Summer books allow the characters to be on the cusp of new beginnings. This book allowed for this both in its season and in the travel component of the book. Like summer, travel can offer new perspectives at every turn. These girls have much to sort out in their friendship and have the opportunity to do so against the backdrop of all these beautiful, interesting places. However, travel can also be exhausting, no matter how luxurious, and therefore can test even a steady friendship. This trip provided so many opportunities for these girls to be outside their comfort zones and that is always fun when writing fiction.
What’s so special about YA literature?
I could write a whole book about this question, but I will try to be brief and say that I believe YA literature taps into that shimmery, challenging time in our lives when we hover in the gap between being a child and being an adult. There is something elastic and expansive and frightening and scarring and beautifully romantic about this time period – we go through so many firsts, so many doubts, so many dreams. Of course as adults we continue to change and make important decisions that recalibrate our lives; however, during our teen years, we are new to this kind of independence and tension and I think it makes for great literature.
What advice would you offer aspiring writers?
Being a writer is about tuning your senses to the world and really noticing things -- noticing the way things smell and taste and sound and feel to the touch. Noticing the way people move or act and exploring all the different points of view people have in the world. Specifically, for character, really listen when people talk and study the way they build sentences so that you can recreate different speech patterns in a character. Know your characters' likes and dislikes. I think the most important thing is to remember to allow your characters to be whoever they are in the world. People often have a tendency to want to put characters into stereotypical boxes and writers should try to see them as whole, flawed people (the best, and truest sorts of people). But it's also okay to love them all deeply. I have certainly been accused of loving my characters too much!
Sum up The Wonder of Us in 3 words!
I asked my 13 year old daughter to answer this question and she said when she describes my book to her friends she says: funny, bittersweet, smart (aww, I promise I didn’t pay her!)
Thank you so much, Kim, for appearing on my blog!
Make sure you guys keep an eye out for a review coming soon...
Buy The Wonder of Us here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wonder-Us-Kim-Culbertson/dp/0545731518
Check out Kim Culbertson here: https://kimculbertson.com
Until next time :)