Thursday, May 23, 2019

Review: AGAIN, BUT BETTER by Christine Riccio

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The story opens up with Shane on a plane to London for a study abroad in college. The beginning of this book was not very good. It felt like the kind of story a high schooler would write, to be honest. But about 150 pages in, I noticed a huge change in the tone of the story, the maturity of the characters, the writing style, and the overall plot, and suddenly I became more interested. The more I read, the more I liked it, and by the end, I actually enjoyed the story. And I love how it ended.

The first half of the story takes place in 2011 and it is so obvious this is the case because of all the pop culture references and the unnecessary description of how things were back then to make it clear we aren’t reading a book set in 2019.

Six years after the study abroad, Shane and Pilot go through a “time warp” back to 2011 and have the chance to literally redo their year abroad. I was hoping when the synopsis said they could redo their year that it was like them deciding to take a trip back to revisit London in the present and relive some of the moments they had on their study abroad, not them actually going back in time. However, even though the plot basically happens twice, Shane and Pilot going to the exact same places in the same cities, the story doesn’t feel repetitive, which makes me really happy.

Shane describes herself as socially anxious: she has trouble making friends and talking to guys and doing anything outside of her comfort zone. I would also describe myself as a socially anxious person, however I did have friends and relationships in college. Not a lot, but I was not completely by myself. After learning this about Shane right from the beginning, I thought it was strange the decisions she started to make. She seemed to have no problems befriending her flatmates, and she walked right over to the cute guy to introduce herself, which is something I never would have done. So right away that felt out of character for her. Her social anxiety felt like the kind of social anxiety that everyone experiences from time to time, but nothing extreme or really even worth noting.

Christine mentions in the author’s note in the beginning how this is the book she wishes she would have had when she started college because she was all alone. What I can’t understand then is how Shane is able to be so outgoing with boys right from the get-go. I can’t imagine that someone with the level of anxiety she claims to have would have felt comfortable walking right up to a cute guy and saying “hi” and then going to the store with him and then flirting with him mere hours after they met. I feel like I’m a halfway capable person in the social department but I never could have done that because I was always way too shy around guys. So for Christine wanting to write a book that’s relatable to early-twenty-somethings, that’s a pretty unrelatable thing to include, especially at the beginning before Shane’s character has any time to develop. She even says, “I don’t usually say stuff like that to people I’ve just met.” And let’s not even talk about the glaring insta-love that develops within the first few hours of their meeting.

Something that bothered me about this entire book was the amount of repetition in the phrases used in any given scene. The wording could have been changed to give some variance, but frequently the same set of words was just repeated from sentence to sentence, and it got tiring. (It is so ironic to me that a lot of the individual wording feels repetitive when the plot happening twice does not feel repetitive, as I mentioned earlier.) In the same vein, literally every time Shane stands up, the chair she was sitting in falls over. I’m pretty sure this has happened to me only twice in my whole life so far, yet I kid you not it happened to her every single time she stood up. Like so often that I actually lost count. Talk about a realistic main character.

Another detail I want to note is the amount of unnecessary descriptions of mundane activities. I remember watching in one of Christine’s videos about her writing process for this book that she was trying to cut out like 30,000 words or some ridiculous number from the final draft, and I think the end result was still longer than it was supposed to be. I’m baffled by this because there were sentences upon sentences that didn’t need to be there. Every detail about Shane’s daily actions is mentioned. In one scene when they go to Starbucks, there are four sentences in a row about their time spent waiting in line. Was that necessary or interesting? No, I thought not.

The unnecessary detail and repetition in the writing was a big factor in the book feeling amateur for me. I’ve mentioned in many reviews before that the writing style is the biggest factor in me liking a book. The story itself in Again, but Better was interesting and fun, and the characters were okay, but the novice writing tendencies were a huge hindrance to the book.

What I enjoyed the most about this book was being able to relate to the setting. I, too, went on a study abroad to London and stayed in a flat with other people in my college program, and we had a communal kitchen where we would all hang out just like the characters in the book. In reading about those parts, I was able to picture the scenes perfectly because I already knew the setting. Every single place Shane went in the book (with the exception of Italy), I also went while on my study abroad in college. London, Paris, even Edinburgh was the exact same for me. It was so much fun to remember all those adventures I had and relive them through her eyes and imagine her doing what I did. I could picture all the minor details and I loved it; the setting felt very genuine, and that’s the biggest compliment I have for this story.

Another thing I enjoyed was that the plot was engaging enough to keep me reading. I never felt like I was forcing myself to pick up the book, even though the writing was sometimes cheesy and the characters one dimensional. It was easy for me to get through the book, which I was grateful for, plus the short chapters were a breath of fresh air after reading primarily fantasy books with long chapters for the past five months.

The story also gets tremendously more interesting after Amy shows up in the picture. Certain events happen that just ramp up the tension and had my eyes glued to the page to see what was going to happen next. This is also when I saw a huge increase in the quality of writing and the maturity of the story.

Music plays a big role in the story. All the chapter titles are from song lyrics, plus Pilot’s passion is playing music and he and Shane constantly reference different songs. Also, on an unrelated note, I like that Shane calls Pilot “Pies.” The story is cute and the romance is cute. However, the author tried too hard to add humor and funny dialogue but it just felt forced to me and not at all funny. I read all the dialogue in my head in a high-pitched overenthusiastic voice because that’s honestly how the story feels like it is written, where everything feels like it ends with an exclamation point.

It seems obvious that this could go without saying but the main character, Shane, is a replica of Christine. They look and talk the same and they have identical personalities. There’s nothing inherently wrong with writing yourself as the main character, but it’s worth mentioning at least.

I mentioned in one of my updates that Again, but Better feels like Anna and the French Kiss to me. Basic contemporary romance, European setting, studying abroad, the “absolutely perfect” cute guy, underlying cheating, unnecessary explanations for everything, etc. I didn’t like Anna and the French Kiss, and this one was only slightly better.

I casually watch Christine’s YouTube channel so when I found out she was writing a book I was interested to read it. However, the real reason I read Again, but Better when I did instead of putting it off for a few years is because I am moderating the book club at work, and this book was chosen as the first month’s pick. I’m glad I read the book and was able to support Christine, but I also think my time of enjoying romantic contemporaries like this one is mostly behind me. This novel felt too young, even though Shane is in her early twenties like I am, and I just couldn’t relate to her like I thought I should have been able to. This is definitely a young adult book, and young adult contemporaries are just not my thing anymore, unfortunately. I do think this book will be wonderful for many people, probably girls still in high school or just starting college, so if this sounds like something you’d enjoy then give it a go. I probably would have liked it quite a bit more myself if I were younger, but alas, I am in my mid-twenties now and my reading tastes have changed quite a bit since I was in high school.

I have to note this from an editor’s perspective that whoever edited this book does not know how to use en-dashes, and the context can actually get confusing when a hyphen is used instead. I stumbled over words on a few occasions because I was reading as if it were a hyphen when clearly an en-dash was intended. One example among many is “I need an eye contact-less second,” and I seriously thought she was talking about contact lenses and I was very confused. That’s such a clunky way to word that sentence anyway; why not just say, “I need a second without eye contact”? We won’t talk about any other editing errors I noticed.

I really liked the ending of the book. However, here’s how I was secretly hoping it would end: [SPOILERS: Pilot and Shane decide to just live through the past again and make a better future for themselves and finally admit their feelings for each other, and you think it’s going to be a happily ever after until Shane accidentally pushes the button one day (because we know she’s clumsy after always knocking over her chair) and they return to 2017 and forget their redo trip to London. They end up back in the elevator and go about their lives but they have this inkling that they need to see each other again so they meet up and decide they need to give each other a chance because neither of them is happy with their current life so they break up with their partners and finally get together and move on from there, and then essentially it ends the same but six years later and with added tension.]

No comments:

Post a Comment