Again, But Better by Christine Riccio
From Goodreads: 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.
WARNING: THIS IS A SPOILERY REVIEW. If you haven’t read the book, and would like to do so without knowing everything, please click away now 😀
Again, But Better is a book that I really wanted to like. Someone in the BookCon line seemed to be enjoying it a lot, and she pitched it to me in a way that intrigued me. I think she maaaay have mentioned the super weird plot twist thing in it, but for some reason I sort of forgot all about it until I got to that point in the book and said ‘ohhhh, wait, yeah.’ Anyhow, more on that later.
After picking up a copy on sale at YALC, I thought I’d give it a shot. There were some elements to the story that I thought might be really interesting– a study abroad year, some romance, adventures around Europe. As someone who has done a year abroad myself, I thought this might be fun to read.
Unfortunately, I was really not a fan. The more I think about this book, the less I like it. Books like this are the exact reason why I am starting to not trust booktubers publishing novels.
Firstly, there was a huge lack of character development or growth. The main character, Shane, is the typical quirky ‘not like other girls’ girl. She likes to write, play card games, write her blog [she goes by a name that is so self-insert that it just made me cringe], and she loves The Beatles, which for some reason translates as being super eccentric because of course nobody in their 20s has probably ever heard of them [the sarcasm is strong here]. She’s also incredibly clumsy, but in a way that’s just unrealistic and annoying, rather than endearing or an actual flaw.
My main issue with her though, is that she doesn’t do anything. All of her choices are effectively made for her. At the start of the novel, she tricks her parents into letting her go and study abroad by pretending it’s part of her med school training, when in reality she’s taking some time out of medical school to study creative writing. That’s what she really wants to do. But that decision to trick her parents happens before the book even starts. Apart from being brave enough to travel around Europe with her friends [which is admittedly, a big step], she makes no other choices for herself. Yes, she runs back and misses her flight because she’s trying to tell Pilot she loves him, but she also gives up almost immediately when she finds out he’s already left, and even though she has his number, she never tries to get in contact with him until SIX YEARS LATER. And really, I don’t count her telling Pilot she had feelings for him as an accomplishment, considering it took her six years to admit it.
A lot of the moments when she does make an actual choice happen because Shane has been forced into an impossible position or because of the insane time travel thing [again, totally coming back to this later]. This may sound nit-picky, but it’s a huge problem with Shane’s character growth. Effectively, the big choices she makes to put her foot down and switch to a writing course and become an author, and to pursue a relationship with Pilot only happen because the time travel gave her an easy way out. She lived six years of doing a degree for a career she didn’t want, and she even got engaged to someone she didn’t love, just because she was too afraid to make choices for herself. Which is fair. I’m not complaining too hard about this, because I figured the idea is that Shane is meant to grow as a character and put her foot down and learn to be an adult.
Except, the time travel stuff makes this impossible. She has six years of knowing how miserable her life could be, of doing med school and a boring relationship. But them BAM, she emerges in the past again, and she has a chance to make better decisions. But, I don’t see her making those changes as her actually growing as a person. I mean, if I went to a takeaway place, ordered food, and got food poisoning, then somehow went back in time to before I ordered there, I’d be an idiot for ordering that food again, right? Shane is kind of in the same position. She does eventually choose the things she wants from her life, but since she basically states how much she hates the thought of doing med school over again, and staying with her bf she doesn’t love, it’s more that she’s already travelled a road, realised it sucks, and decides to make a different choice when she has the chance to do it over again. That isn’t character growth, that’s just not being a moron.
And then there’s the love story stuff. Admittedly, there were some moments when I was a bit excited for this, but mostly it was just annoying and poorly written. It’s incredibly insta-love-y. Like, Shane walks into her new apartment, sees Pilot for the first time, and immediately decides he is The One and she gets madly obsessed with him. To the point where it is quite uncomfortable and creepy. She never seems to learn her lesson with this either, because she tracks him down six years later [she knows where he works despite barely keeping in contact with him] to declare her feelings for him. Because, of course everyone in YA land never actually gets past their first crush and must always pine after them forever, even though in reality six years is a huge time to be nursing feelings for someone who you spent a bit of a year with [he doesn’t even talk to her for several months of it] and never dated.
But back to development. The other characters are no better. Pilot is one of the least interesting love interests I’ve ever encountered in a book. He doesn’t have any real personality to him, other than the fact that he also likes The Beatles, enjoys playing guitar, and runs away from making decisions when the going gets tough. He’s also, IMO, a raging asshole. I mean, Shane isn’t much better either, since she’s essentially a homewrecker, but Pilot has a girlfriend throughout their initial year abroad whom he doesn’t really like. But rather than break up with her, like a decent human being, he just emotionally cheats on her for almost a whole year. Then, he feels so guilty that he almost kissed Shane and had feelings for her, that he decides to keep dating this poor girl and even gets engaged to her because he feels so bad about it. Because, you know, what else is a stand up guy to do?
Later on, he also becomes just… weird. He’s so angry at Shane about the time travel stuff, even though she clearly didn’t know that would happen, and he treats her like something on the bottom of his shoe. There’s also that thing where, instead of actually having a conversation with his girlfriend when he does break up with her, he LEAVES HER A FREAKING VOICEMAIL and then, surprise surprise, it didn’t actually reach her and she thinks they’re still dating. Who does that? And who the hell wants to be with a jerk who does this?
Other than those two, the other characters barely get any development at all. Babe [yes, I can’t believe I am typing such a ridiculous name] is just there as a sidekick. She basically encourages Shane to be a homewrecker, then sits around being miserable because the idiot guy she had a crush on is an utter jerk. Chad, the aforementioned idiot guy, exists only to be the stereotypical bro type character who tries to go after Shane even though her best friend has feelings for him. The other housemates are so underdeveloped that they might as well not exist. There was a weird mention of Shane’s cousin Leo, but he’s so far removed from the plot that he could easily have been deleted from the book and it wouldn’t make a difference.
My other serious gripe with this book is it’s portrayal of a year abroad in Europe. Now, I am English. I have lived in England almost my whole life. So I know what utter bullshit it is when Americans think you can flit around the whole continent for a couple of bucks at the drop of a hat. Seriously, Shane and her friends just randomly decide on like a Thursday to visit Rome, and then on Saturday they’re off. Shane sort of mentions some savings, but honestly, every single character in this book must be middle-class rich, because there is no way students living abroad on a tight budget can just afford to drop everything and travel like that all the time. Not only do they do Rome, but also Paris, and some of them also go to Berlin, Ireland, Edinburgh and Amsterdam. Granted, they don’t all go to all of those places, but as someone who has grown up working class in England, I kind of resent this idea that we’re so well connected to Europe and it costs so little to just travel wherever, whenever we feel like it. Honestly, I’m going to Amsterdam for a few days soon, and it cost me like £360 plus all my transport while I’m there, food, museum passes, etc. Yes, they do stay in hostels, which is cheaper than the hotel I’m staying in, but come on. It’s still not that cheap. Please can we stop pretending that Europe is a tiny country-sized continent?
So yeah, so far we have no character growth, a terrible love interest, and some side characters who are so far in the background that they might as well not exist. And ridiculous travel all around Europe.
Now let me introduce the insane time travel.
Yes, this novel, which has been published as a contemporary YA book, includes time travel. Basically, there’s a weird red-headed barista woman who is super strange. We first meet her when she just rudely decides to grab Shane’s notebook and read it in the airport, because of course that’s an acceptable thing for a stranger to do. She then pops up everywhere, which should have been an indication to me of where this book was going, but somehow I missed this warning sign because it was just too weird to actually take in.
Anyhow, she’s some kind of fairy godmother type figure. When Shane finally tells Pilot she liked him after six years of creepily pining for him, the red-headed woman is there in the cafe, and when they leave in the elevator, it breaks, plunging them to their deaths. Except, unfortunately not. Instead, Shane and Pilot survive and get taken back in time so they have a chance to redo all their cheating romance stuff. The weird barista fairy godmother also gives them an out, some magic mysterious button they can press if they want to undo the time travel and resume their lives with no memory of it. Again, not only is is INCREDIBLY WEIRD and jarring to be reading a contemporary novel that somehow jumps to time travel in an elevator, but it also just… what? This is without doubt the worst part of the book for me. It was so unnecessary and as I’ve explained, I feel like it damaged any chances of character growth. I might have reluctantly put up with it if it happened, only for one of them to hit the reset button and then Shane decides to make changes to her life anyway, but obviously that wasn’t the case. Also, the red-headed woman is never explained and it is so bizarre and I honestly hated it.
And that’s actually, pretty much all I have to say about this book. If there are any positives to say about it, I will say that it was a quick read and the actual writing style and pacing were all reasonably good. I might have DNF’d it, if not for how readable it was. Other than that though, it was an actual train wreck. And I hate writing that, because I think Christine is pretty cool and I can tell from her videos that she actually enjoyed writing this book and is passionate about it. I don’t like giving rant reviews, because there’s a person who is behind this book. But also, there were so many problems with it that I can’t, in good conscience, suggest to anyone that they pick up this book.
Overall, I’d give Again, But Better a 3/10 stars. I wanted to enjoy it, but it really wasn’t my kind of book. The characters were paper thin and had no agency or growth. The romance was insta-love and involved some pretty unethical choices on both characters’ parts, which made them unsympathetic. The travel around Europe was just ridiculously unrealistic, and the time travel stuff was so weird and out there that it jarred badly with the contemporary genre the book was marketed as. It was a quick and easy read, but there are definitely better books out there if you’re looking for fluffy romances about travelling.
Has anyone else read this book already or plans to? What do you all think of it? Let me know in the comment section down below ❤