Book Review, ya fiction

Book Review | AGAIN, BUT BETTER, by Christine Riccio

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Again, but Better, by Christine Riccio

Publish Date: May 7, 2019
Published by: Wednesday Books
Length: 373 pages
Genre: YA Fiction (with a little bit of fantasy)
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5 out of 5 stars)


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.

My Review:

This is one of those books that takes my own what-ifs and brings them into a reality I could only fantasize about. Going into this book, I was hopeful but hesitant. I have not followed Christine Riccio on any social media platform, but I knew she was popular from seeing her name a lot. So when I saw that she was getting a book published I was trying not to expect too much. The premise sounded interesting, to be sure, especially since I too have a lot of regrets about college and decisions I made that I wish I could go back and do again, so I was immediately intrigued when I first read the description. And surprisingly, by the end of the book, I could not stop smiling like a drunken idiot.

I will say, the beginning of the novel had me doubting my inevitable enjoyment of this book. The writing at first was very straight-forward and almost choppy, with lots of flat descriptions of what Shane and her flatmates were doing. They were basic, normal actions that felt stale and tasteless. Shane herself narrated strangely. It was all so simple and unimaginative that it felt like how people who look down upon YA books would expect a YA book to be written, rather than how most are. I don’t know how else to describe it, other than cringeworthy and almost too juvenile. If it hadn’t been for the catchy dialogue, my interest in seeing how things would progress, and the fact that I am in charge of the B&N YA Book Club at my store, I almost might have stopped reading this book within the first few chapters because it was so…bland.

But I am glad I kept going. After a few more chapters, as the characters began to be fleshed out, and the storyline began to progress, I found myself unable to put it down. I found myself rooting for Shane, both with her dreams and her burgeoning romance, as well as her growing friendships that she had so desired. Although I did feel at times that for someone who claims to have never been bold enough to make friends or find someone she might be interested in, Shane seemed to easily do just those things during her first few days in London. I don’t know about anyone else, but my introverted tendencies were very hard to break. Her interactions with Pilot (I am still not over the fact that his name is Pilot Penn. Nope.) were cute, fun, thoguh, and just had me constantly grinning from ear to ear. The drama of course made for great tension without being too overly dramatic, and the family issues were hard to digest at times and had me getting so angry for Shanewe.

I thought the plotline was very interesting and went in a direction I wasn’t aware it was going to when I first read the summary. It sounded as if this study abroad semester was going to be Shane’s second chance at claiming her own life, but instead halfway through it everything fell apart and she drifted back to being the obedient daughter doing whatever she can to make her parents happy, rather than herself. It hurt to see it all go downhill so quickly in the book, but then things took a Twilight Zone type of turn and there was suddenly time travel and the chance for Shane and Pilot to do it all over again. It almost…jaded me. I was honestly a little pissed and disappointed for a bit when that plot twist dropped. I mean, I had a feeling something was coming with that red-haired lady, but still. It felt a little unfair. Part of me connected heavily with the first storyline of Shane’s, where she tried and failed and had to live with the consequences of that. Because that is my life right now. I made decisions in my past that led me to my current life, and there are several I wish I could go back and change because while at the time I thought they were the decisions I wanted, I now realize that I hadn’t fully considered all my options at the time, and what if I had chosen something else? For Shane to get a magical second chance at her own self-made second chance almost felt like cheating. Where is my spirit guide, huh? What if I need to change my past to change my life for the better as well?

Ignoring my own personal anger at not being able to go back in time and fix my own mistakes, the time travel part of the book wasn’t actually all that bad in the long run. It gave Shane and the reader to see things happen again but in a different way. Different choices being made, new stories about characters coming to light. The second chance plotline had me smiling and cheering, laughing and crying. [SPOILER]I got angry at Shane for thinking she couldn’t have both a career and romance and be good at both, and for making such a quick decision so sharply about her relationship with Pilot (not including the bit about Amy. That was it own pile of BS that he needed to definitely fix). But I guess it worked out in the end because she found both herself and them as a couple and by then end I was grinning so much it hurt. [END SPOILER]

The ending was a little cheesy, predictable, and easy. [SPOILER] But it was a happy ending that you wanted to see, because Shane deserved it, Pilot deserved it, and the reader deserved it.[END SPOILER] It gives the reader hope that they too will find happiness if they pursue it. Choose to be happy, to do what makes you happy, and don’t look back and regret.

But again, we don’t all get that second chance, so it’s also a lot of wishful thinking and wouldn’t-it-be-nice’s. I have mixed feelings about this book to be sure. On the one hand, it is cute as hell, made me smile and made me laugh and made me cry and get angry on Shane’s behalf. But on the other, it just made me think of all my own regrets and wishes for what-might-have-beens.

I hope that the audience who this book is really for – those who are just entering college or haven’t entered yet – get a better takeaway from this book than I did. I hope they find hope in their future, so that they don’t feel the regret I have for my past.

Who knows, maybe it isn’t too late for me either.

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