Shane has been doing college all wrong…
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!
… 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.
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4.5/5)
I was cringing with doubt when I first saw this book. YouTubers have a rough history with the publishing world—its always either hit or (usually) miss.
Christine Riccio may have been the first Booktuber I ever watched, but that did nothing to abate my nerves. Even Booktubers, despite their many opinions on others’ writing, are prone to the same mistakes as their digital contemporaries.
I was quite surprised to find that Again But Better is everything that makes YA rom-com so addictive and well-loved. All rolled into one (fairly) neat package.
Riccio even managed to breathe new life into tropes I constantly see overworked (and underpaid) across the genre. It was a delight to stumble upon these moments in situ, so I won’t spoil them for you.
This book is a fun read, peppered with early 2010s pop-culture references. And the distinct notes of Taylor Swift made the story more contextually believable (speaking as a long-time fan).
Riccio’s relatable characters are the stand-out in this story. Even against such star-studded settings as London and Rome.
Shane, the MC, is all of us who feel the pressures of young adult life weighing in, yet struggle to produce the diamonds of success we’re told we need to be fulfilled. And Pilot is all of us who grapple with the temptation to go the ‘safe route’ when faced with tough choices.
It was also refreshing to see so many distinct side characters and adorable friendships. I could easily care about these individually because they each had their own purposeful trajectories. They didn’t just two-dimensionally prop up the protagonist—a huge pet peeve of mine.
This story, these characters, are for the people who want to make more of themselves. Who want to define their own happiness. It’s for the free-spirits who are trapped within themselves; and the lovers who feel lost and alone.
A warning to everyone who picks up this book: it will make you feel inspired.
SPOILER WARNING: do not read this if you haven’t read the book
Other things I particularly enjoyed:
- The banter between Shane and Pilot: often with books and movies I question what the ‘endgame’ couple have in common. The author is frequently too focused on writing their romantic moments to develop each character as individuals with likes, dislikes and anything that makes them distinct. Shane and Pilot had their own complexities first and foremost. It was believable for them to be romantically interested in each other because they actually had common ground based on their individuality. This meant their relationship wasn’t superficial and avoided being hallmarked by the apparently charming (yet actually annoying) arguments witnessed in many other fictional relationships, see: Noah and Allie in the Notebook (sorry!).
- Blogging and travel inspiration: this book is supercharged with travel, blogging and well… travel blogging. As a new blogger, it was really interesting to explore another blogger who I related to’s journey, even though it was fictional. It made me remember how much I enjoy writing in my own style, and how rewarding it is to produce work that I’m proud of. I wonder whether this particular experience was something other readers felt/related to?
- The magic/time travel isn’t really explained and makes no sense: I know I’ve been really positive up until this point, and I love the book in spite of it. But honestly, for the briefest moment, I was tempted to put the book down when the transition between timelines happened. Until that point, the book had exceeded all expectations, and when this happened a little part of me died. It was just so convenient! We got no real explanation as to why the time travel happened to Pilot and Shane beyond their being stalked by a weird red-headed woman, who also really confused me. It made me anxious to see Shane and Pilot messing up their meet-cutes with all their dorm-mates, and I’m surprised no real negative butterfly effect happened as a result.
- Why did Atticus vanish from existence in part 2? He just disappeared with his plot a loose end, and I can’t help but wonder why.
- Why didn’t Shane invest in Apple or Bitcoin or something when she went back? She could have been RICH, it would have been smart and she would have gotten away with it.
- Is Shane just a reflection of the author? The Taylor Swift, the nerd stuff, the online content creation, the username, the London exchange…these are all things we know Riccio likes, does or has done. So many authors like to write themselves into their MCs so that they can have some weird second life where all their dreams are fulfilled (*cough cough* Sarah J. Maas). Its kind of creepy to be honest. Not to mention very unoriginal. In an interview with LittleBookOwl, Riccio stated that Shane was not a duplicate of herself, but I wonder whether she doesn’t notice it because it was perhaps unconscious.
- Lastly, some variation of ‘cackle’ was used at least 17 times, pick up a thesaurus someone, please! Surely this thing was edited that many times someone could have picked up on it.