AGAIN, BUT BETTER by Christine Riccio (PolandbananasBOOKS) // A Rare Book Review # 2

Note: Thank you so much to NetGalley for giving me an ARC review copy of Again, But Better. 

I finished this book two days ago (two nights ago, actually) and I'm still trying to figure out how to say what I want to say without sounding mean or nasty. Like people actually want this book to fail because it's made by a successful booktuber/internet personality, and we know her and love her so much. I for one have been following Christine's youtube career since it's inception in 2010, and haven't stopped since. When she first announced that she was writing her debut novel, I followed pretty much every Writing Video because not only did I believe that she had (has) the talents to transition into publishing novels, but also she has such a passion for books and reading that I don't see from anywhere else.

With that being said, I had a hard time enjoying Again, But Better. 

I know I gave it 3 stars, but my version of 3 stars means it was a decent read. Just strictly decent; not downright garbage, but not that great, either. The more I think about it, the less I think I really did like it. Because I didn't want my 'fave' to let me down.

The writing is simplistic, at best. 

There are 2 parts and an epilogue, and in Part 1 2011, we are introduced to the main character Shane Primaveris, who has traveled from her small hometown in New York to study abroad in London for a creative writing program, unbeknownst to her parents. In one aspect, you want to root for the MC because everything is in her perspective. But if her actions are questionable, her thought processing is all over the place, and her morality is poor, then you won't like her. And that comes down to the writing. I understand that Shane is 20 years old and had lived a very sheltered life, but the way Christine wrote her made it seem like Shane was 16 years old; 18, at most. I didn't feel like I was reading in the context of a mature 20-year-old learning about herself, starting over in a new country, to do what she really wants to do, who she really wants to be. 

Granted, the writing isn't piss-poor, but the incessant amount of pop culture references (specifically 2011 pop-culture references), started to drive me crazy. Also, the amount of song lyrics.... Christine couldn't have described the song without having the characters obnoxiously scream them into the abyss?! Additionally, I didn't feel the environment in which London took place; I didn't feel like we were in London, but merely watching snippets of the city and other cities Shane and her friends visited. I didn't feel immersed in imagery, similes, metaphors. This book could have taken place in New Jersey (where Christine is from, and also where I'm from!), and it wouldn't have been any different. But at the same time, I knew walking into this book that the writing wasn't going to be of the essence of The Great American Novel. Most debuts don't have that kind of luck, except if you've been working on the same book for 5-6 years, developing your craft hardcore.

Ok so on to the characters. I'd already spoke on Shane, so I'll go on to the others. There's Pilot, her love interest; and her roomates Babe, Sahra, and Atticus. There is also Pilot's roomate Chad. These people (with the exception of Pilot) were pretty forgettable. I liked Babe, but I didn't know her enough as a character to root for her, either. There is a little more information about her in Part 2 2017, but it's still not enough. Sahra is invisible; and Atticus is the drama major who is mostly too busy with his own life to join in on the adventures they had. Not much else I can say about them, I'm afraid. But they weren't bad or awful, by anymeans. With the exception of Chad; because there was a moment between him, Shane and Babe that was so rude and awful.

Pilot. What can I say about our dear, ol' Pilot Penn?

Pilot ain't shit.

He'd started out as a nice, cute, funny, kind of sweet guy that Shane had a crush on. But it could only stay as a crush because he had a girlfriend back home. However, he didn't even let the group of friends know himself; I think Atticus (or was it Chad?) who let it known about Amy, Pilot's girlfriend. And while I'm not okay with what is now known as emotional cheating, I didn't hate Shane like everyone else did. She was being called a homewrecker/whore/boyfriend-stealer by other reviewers, and I didn't see it. I still don't see it; Pilot was the one with the girlfriend. Not Shane. Pilot was the one who kept leading her on and practically kept dodging everyone's questions about Amy, until Part 2 2017. So if anyone should be mad at anyone, it's Pilot. Additionally, Pilot showcased more of his ain't-shit-ness in Part 2. He'd gotten a bit better at the end, but by that time, I was already so done with him and knew how the story would end. I imagine that if this story continued in 2018-2019, Shane and Pilot would have been broken up again. Because I did not see the character development between the 6-year time jump. Shane and Amy deserve better than this manipulative, singer-songwriter, one-time Youtube sensation.

Also, I've noticed how none of the reviews mention how borderline abusive Shane's parents are, especially her father. 

One of the key moments that made me cry and finally feel badly for Shane was during the dinner scene when her parents surprise her in London. Not only do they find out Shane lied to them about the pre-med program in London, which doesn't exist, but are furious when they find it's a creative writing program. Not only does her father proceed to humiliate his only daughter in a crowded restaurant, but he takes her British phone and smashes it on the floor! I understand that these rich-ass parents want the best for their daughter, but they're also dumb for not looking into this school they've spent possibly thousands of dollars for. I don't know any parents who would just accept a handmade brochure (yes, handmade! Shane had the time!) to a program that doesn't exist, in another country no less! But I digress; Shane's father is an abusive bastard who knows nothing about his daughter's dreams of being a writer and doing what she loves. Her mother was passive-agressive as fck; she only spoke when she needed too, and what she said didn't help the situation. This was one of the key moments where the writing was actually better than the rest of the novel. I could feel everything Shane and her friends felt; there was an emotional pull in the writing that made me cry buckets! If Christine were to create a prequel or spin-off series on Shane's relationship with her parents, I wouldn't hate it, because I want to know what that was like.

Not to mention, there is a magical realism thing that happens in Part 2 2017; that's why there's a 6-year difference between then and now. 

Which to me wasn't executed well at all; I could have done without this part because it wasn't needed. Even if there was a time-jump, it wasn't expressed in the writing. Shane (now 26 years old) still acted and spoke like a 16 year old kid, but now engaged to some guy named Melvin. Pilot still had Amy back home. Not that 6 years isn't that much of a difference, but between 20 and 26 years, you've lived a little bit of life, had some experiences that changed you and matured you in some way. Nope, no, Shane was still speaking like a 16 year old goofy, nerdy, shy, awkward kid. She didn't grow into herself that much. Same with Pilot, who was also older in 2017. Not only did that make me not want to root for them even more, but it made me angry at times. Also, Shane and Pilot had a spirit guide redhaired woman creature that followed them around and basically set them up for this time-travel adventure. And her magical abilities weren't explained at all. We didn't even know she was a spirit guide until Shane proclaimed her as such. The redhaired woman never confirmed or denied it, which made the plot more jumbled and all over the place.

However, there was a period after their breakup that Shane drove herself into her work, her internship, hanging out more with her friends, becoming her own self. And I really liked that; aside from the Pilot drama, we got to explore the Shane that could have been. The aspiring writer from the US traveling to UK to explore her dreams and pushed herself to the extreme in every aspect. That last quarter (before the ending) was what gave me to rate this 3 stars. That last quarter of the book made me finally root for Shane and her well-being. 

Also, in Part 2, there was another moment between Shane and her cousin Leo, who was a closeted gay person. She helped him and was there for him during his own breakup and homophobic father. Even though it was through Facebook chat, I felt their connection, and I thought that was really sweet of Shane to help him.

I could go on and on about this book, but I need to let my fingers rest with all of this typing! All in all, this wasn't terrible, but it just wasn't very good. It was just....ok.

To tell you the truth, if Christine were to write a second book (or even do this one Again, but better!) I'd read it because I do think she has a talent and a way with words. Her words just need extra cleanup and way less pop-culture references. 

Rating: 3 stars

Review stars created by Clo @ BookDragons

This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on

Have you read Again, But Better? What are your thoughts on the book and Christine's debut as an author? Comment below!

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