Title: Again, but Better
Author: Christine Riccio
Release Date: May 7, 2019
Number of Pages: 377
Description: “From one of the most followed booktubers today, comes Again, but Better, a story about second chances, discovering yourself, and being brave enough to try again.
Shane has been doing college all wrong. Pre-med, stellar grades, and happy parents…sounds ideal — but Shane’s made zero friends, goes home every weekend, and romance…what’s that?
Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time’s a ticking, and she needs a change — there’s nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She’s going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure!
Easier said than done. She is soon faced with the complicated realities of living outside her bubble, and when self-doubt sneaks in, her new life starts to fall apart.
Shane comes to find that, with the right amount of courage and determination one can conquer anything. Throw in some fate and a touch of magic – the possibilities are endless.”
When I got Again, but Better off of NetGalley, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have watched many of the author’s videos on YouTube over the years, so I’m familiar with her in that context, but I had no idea if she would be able to write or not. After finishing the book, I can honestly say that there is plenty that I loved and hated about this book, as my review could have been anywhere between one and five stars depending upon how far along I was when asked. While I enjoyed it overall, there are some major issues here that should be known ahead of picking the title up for the first time, as it may not be for everyone.
First of all, if anyone is trying to decide whether to purchase this book or not, go watch the author’s channel first. The reason I say this is because the main character, Shane, is nearly identical to Riccio in her mannerisms, interests, and way of speaking. For me, this isn’t a bad thing, as I watch and enjoy Riccio’s content on a regular basis. Moreover, I suspect that many authors write characters similar to themselves, especially in a debut novel, but since Riccio is a well-known YouTube personality in the book world, the similarities are more easily seen than with other writers. Still, for people that don’t like the author’s video content, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book.
The aspect of Again, but Better that bothered me above everything else was the constant barrage of pop culture references. I am fine with characters having favorite bands and movies because giving them interests helps them feel more realistic, but there’s a point where it stops being fun and starts to get on my nerves, instead. A large portion of the book takes place in 2011, and the author seems keen on making sure readers remember that on every page by quoting Lost and playing Angry Birds. The rest of the plot takes place in 2016, where the pop culture references are just as overwhelmingly present and irritating. At one point, Shane makes a long-winded and philosophical speech that I can only assume is meant to be similar to the monologues of John Green characters, only to actually reference and go on to perform a mini-analysis of one of Green’s books.
The worst offender for pop culture references, however, is a personal pet peeve of mine, and that is using Hogwarts houses as a lazy way to define character traits instead of actually doing the work to develop characters naturally. This is hardly specific to just this individual book, but I hate how often this happens and am now just going to call it out in reviews every time I see it. A lot of young adult contemporaries do this and I believe that J.K. Rowling did not create a shortcut for all other authors to never give their characters a personality again!
In spite of how thoroughly irritated I may sound regarding some aspects of Again, but Better, I actually enjoyed it, for the most part. First of all, Riccio does a phenomenal job of describing settings. A part of this book takes place during a study abroad trip to London and I had a wonderful time living vicariously through the characters as they traveled parts of Europe together on weekends. In general, I also enjoyed all of the characters, as they felt unique and each had their voice to the point that I could pretty easily tell them all apart when they spoke. While the author may have written Shane to be a lot like her, the other characters are quite varied.
My favorite part of the book is actually just the aged up characters. I went in expecting the protagonist to be younger, but that turned out to not be the case. Since part of the plot takes place while Shane is twenty and the rest takes place when she is twenty-six, it was nice to read about characters closer to my own age. While the market of “new adult” typically refers only to romance, Again, but Better feels like a contemporary, coming-of-age version of that genre in many respects. Throughout the story, topics like how to succeed in the working world and learning how to balance a professional life with a romantic relationship are tackled, which are themes I haven’t seen discussed outside of a Sophie Kinsella title in quite a while.
Overall, while Again, but Better is definitely rough around the edges in spots, there’s a lot to like here. Riccio shows a lot of promise as an author, especially since she is willing to write titles that partially cater to the generally underserved twenty-something population of contemporary fans. I hope she writes another book after this one, as I will definitely pick it up as soon as it is available.
Final Score: 3/5
I received a copy of this title from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Have you read Again, but Better? Let me know in the comments below!
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