‘again, but better’ is everything your YA book-loving heart desires

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.

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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.

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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!).

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  • 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?
Concerns:
  • 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.

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  • 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.
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my top three rom-coms of the post-2010 era

 

Romcoms lived their golden era in the 90s and 00s. Loved for their idealistic yet relatable plots, these movies are cult favourites. But in a world where our screens are dominated by the likes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Games of Thrones and Stranger Things, postmodern romcoms need to keep up with the big guns, or risk being left behind.

Admittedly, rom-com isn’t my favourite genre, but I like to believe that just means I’m more critical about what makes one good. Heres my top 3 romcoms (in no particular order), perfect for your next night in:

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Director: Jon M. Chu; based on the book by Kevin Kwan

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Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) finds herself a fish-out-of-water when she visits her boyfriend Nick Young’s (Henry Golding) family home in Singapore for a friend’s wedding. Surrounded by unexpected affluence Rachel must navigate a viper’s nest of jealous socialites and controlling family if she wants to keep her relationship intact.

The epitome of contemporary rom-com, this movie is steeped in culture in a way that elevates the story beyond the simplicity of the typical American romance feature. It is enriched by nuances of family, tradition, duty and familial love which all play significant roles in Rachel and Nick’s relationship, as well as the other key romances in the story. This movie also has a lot of sass, and some great comedic moments—its impossible not to love.

Me Before You (2016)

Director: Thea Sharrock; based on the book by Jojo Moyes

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The effervescent Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) becomes the caregiver for the paralysed and rightly cynical Will Traynor (Sam Claflin). The pair grow together as they learn about what makes life beautiful.

This movie takes your standard B+ romcom to the next level. The love, the heartache and the laughs are crafted in together seamlessly in a story I could watch again and again. Lou’s quirky charm and Will’s sardonic wiles make for a couple the audience can’t help but cheer for. Its an all-round take on the classic rom-com. Keep tissues on hand for this one.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

Director: Susan Johnson; based on the book by Jenny Han

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Lara Jean Covey’s (Lana Condor) private letters to all the boys she’s ever loved are exposed to them without her knowledge. Havoc ensues as her love life spirals beyond her control.

Possibly the greatest high-school set rom-com of all time (big claim, I know), this movie is literal crack. Everyone loves a rom-com with tension, where the main couple are so perfect for each other and they don’t even realise it until things start to get in their way. This movie has that in spades, but its also so much more. It breaks the stereotypes of teen romance, friendship and family relationships in cinema. It’s worth noting that this also has the most stunning cinematography of any movie on this list.


Honourable mentions:

Blended (2014)

Director: Frank Coraci

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Lauren (Drew Barrymore) and Jim (Adam Sandler) never want to see each other again after a failed blind date. But when the opportunity for a holiday in South Africa arises for them and their families, fate unwittingly brings their paths together once more.

A bit of a dark horse on this list, Blended is a good time with its fun family antics and adorable second chance at love story. Its underlying sweetness and it’s family perspective make it both loveable and timeless.

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

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Cal Weaver’s (Steve Carrell) life is turned upside down when he is left suddenly single in his 40s. Player Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) shows Cal how to re-invent himself while experiencing a transformation of his own. A volatile network of relationships develops, but what happens when everything implodes?

This movie harkens back to the tropes of its 90s and 00s forbears with a twist. It plays on the classic plot devices of the one-night-stand, the bar pick-up and the baby-sitter fantasy amongst others, giving some of them a last new life in a comic and unexpected way.

The DUFF (2015)

Director: Ari Sandell

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High-schooler, Bianca (Mae Whitman), tries to reinvent herself with the help of the popular Wesley (Robbie Amell) after discovering that her school has dubbed her the DUFF (‘designated ugly fat friend’). 

A more typical take on the high-school set romcoms, this movie takes the classic trope of overthrowing the teenage social hierarchy and modernises it in a fun and addicting way—if a little crude at times.

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‘cursed child’, not so cursed after all

An Aussie reviews Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I had my doubts when I first heard that Harry Potter was set to become a play. Being so in love with JK Rowling’s ‘Wizarding World’, it’s hard not to feel protective. The books—excellent. The movies—cult favourites. And since then, a slow trickle of ‘HP’ culture in various forms. Some good, some bad. BUT, a play is a big deal, particularly if Queen Rowling herself has a hand in it, because that means canon and that means us Potterheads would have to accept whatever story we get—whether we liked it or not.

This whole venture was not off to a good start. With the release of the play’s transcript, outcry was rife across the globe.

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People seemed determined to hate it, citing many a plot-hole and narrative confusion as their justification, forgetting that they were reading a script, not a novel. Naturally, it’s difficult to get a real sense of the story when all you have to go off of is dialogue. There’s no immersion into the setting, no characterisation, no tension.

To prevent myself from succumbing to this conflict, I had to make a deal with myself: hold off judgment until I could see the play. At least this would allow me to experience the story in its final form, permitting fair judgment. Still, I had low expectations.

As I sit here writing, not ten minutes after the curtain fall, I find it hard to wipe the smile from my face; to quell the feeling of exhilaration welling in my chest. A feeling one only gets upon experiencing something wonderful. Something magical.

And truly, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was special. After spending four and a half hours immersed in the story, I feel like I know these new characters (and old) as dearly as I did The Boy Who Lived all those years ago.

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Our leads, Scorpius Malfoy (William McKenna) and Albus Severus Potter (Sean Rees-Wemyss), were the perfect combination of loveable and whimsical. They gave a modern and hilarious twist to the teenage perspective of love and family; themes which have always been at the crux of Rowling’s stories.

I have to admit, it’s weird to see Harry Potter (Gareth Reeves), and the rest of our old-faves, all grown up and dealing with real adult (TM) problems. I was worried that, since the actors weren’t the same as the ones I grew up with on the big screen, I would feel a disconnect. In light of that, I was shocked how even through the medium of theatre, I could feel their heartache and loss, and it made this play all the more beautiful—

— it was a melting pot of comedy, charm, adventure, love and pain. A beautiful addition to the tales which many hold dear, and so far from the disappointment I was concerned it would be. So far from what many people believe it to be. I highly recommend to anyone who can, go see this play and feel the magic as I did. It’s as close to re-experiencing Rowling’s magic for the first time as you’ll ever get.

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Other things I loved: (SPOILER ALERT)
  • All of the special effects! But I can’t tell you… #keepthesecrets
  • The score. The music was so beautiful, it elevated the emotion of the story ten-fold. My personal favourite, ‘Staircase Ballet’
  • Moaning Myrtle!! So flirty 😏, the best evolution of her character so far
  • Scorpius in general: so funny, so awkward, so sweet—the epitome of a precious boi
  • That feeling of sadness and heartbreak when Harry watched Voldemort and his parents, so real and visceral
  • The dementors (everywhere!)
  • Snape, spot on with the voice; definitely had the potential to be a real ‘hit or miss’ character–big, big hit on this occasion
  • Draco Malfoy, so much like his father, Lucius, yet so different at the same time both visually and personality-wise—loved seeing his relationship with his own son, Scorpius
Things that could have been better:
  • James was a bit too annoying (yes I know it was dramatised and all the characters were over-animated, but still!)
  • Ron was made to look a little bit too hapless and inadequate compared to his peers. I felt this was a bit of a disservice to his character from the books who was so much more than a ‘dumb sidekick’
  • No Hugo Granger-Weasley? It just seems like a bit of a gaping hole

Stay tuned for my next Harry Potter and the Cursed Child post where I reveal everything you need to know about watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in Melbourne.