Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Review: BETTER TOGETHER by Christine Riccio


Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF at 30%. 

I’m very sad to have to say this, but this book is not good. In fact, it’s barely readable at times. 

Better Together is a story in the vein of The Parent Trap. It’s about two sisters—Siri, a ballerina who just sustained a career-ending back injury, and Jamie, a wannabe stand-up comedian who’s struggling to come up with new set ideas—who were separated at a young age by divorcing parents. Now 18 and 20 and living on opposite coasts, the girls both happen to attend the same Rediscover Yourself retreat camp in Colorado, where they rediscover each other as well.

I love The Parent Trap, so a retelling of it sounded like so much fun. I also watch Christine’s YouTube channel and enjoy her outgoing personality, so after reading her first book, Again, but Better, which I thought was just fine but nothing special, I wanted to give her another chance. But oh boy, this book was actually worse than the first one. 

To start with, I was irritated right off the bat when I realized that Siri uses ridiculous words in place of swear words. When I first read, “You’ve never broken up with your dream, no matter how excrement it made things,” I thought for sure I had read a typo. I reread that sentence four times, trying to figure out what word Christine had meant to type instead but ultimately concluded it was a mistake because I was reading an ARC and that it would get fixed later. 

But then I got to this sentence a few pages later: “Don’t do excrement like that without telling me! What the underworld?” And it was then I realized that what I had read before was in fact not a typo. No, instead the word “excrement” is used in place of the S-word, “underworld” is used in place of Hell, and then I later discovered that “intercourse” is used in place of the F-word! There are more examples too, for other curse words, but I can’t be bothered to type them out; I’m already cringing so much. I appreciate the intent to create a character that doesn’t swear, but the way this is done is not working. It makes Siri sound so immature and it honestly makes the story laughable. I couldn’t take it seriously the whole time I was reading. I myself do not swear, but no way am I going to walk around saying, “Are you intercoursing kidding me?” or “You’re such a gluteus maximus trench.” 

Another problem with the words Christine chose to replace swear words is their connotation. For example, whenever you hear the word “shit,” you don’t automatically think of poop because that word has lots of meanings and circumstances in which it is used. But there is never a moment when the word “excrement” is used that it doesn’t make me think of poop; that is its only meaning. So anytime “excrement” was used in this book, I immediately imagined poop (which I guess only goes to reflect my feelings on this book as a whole). Like what’s wrong with using frick, heck, dang, shoot, or crap as fake curse words? Too mainstream, I guess. 

The writing in this book was just plain bad. I hate making such a bold, negative statement like that, but it’s unfortunately true. There’s a difference between objectively bad and subjectively not my taste, and this book is the former, somehow even worse than her debut novel. This book feels like it was written by an elementary-schooler, someone with no experience reading or writing whatsoever. I’m not an author myself, but I feel like I could write a better story than this just based on the fact that I’ve read a lot of books so I know what works and what doesn’t work in storytelling. We all know Christine is a reader, so I don’t understand why she’s choosing to make certain writing decisions that most seasoned readers often dislike and criticize. 

The tone and writing style feel very forced. Written English and spoken English are actually quite different, with the former being much more formal even in a lighthearted and casual context. Speaking a joke to your friend and writing that same joke to your friend come across completely differently. Slang and colloquialisms work better in spoken English than they do in written English. The writing in this book reads like spoken English, and it just doesn’t flow right. It’s very cringey. I get that Christine was trying to use modern phrases and relate to the current growing generation, but it doesn’t work the way she likely intended it to work. The jokes are not funny. The constant pop culture references are grating and unoriginal. The drama is way too over-the-top and unrealistic and eye-roll-inducing. 

After the rough first couple of chapters, I debated whether or not I would actually finish this book. If I could barely make it through the first chapter without getting irritated at the characters, I didn’t know how I’d make it through the whole book. But I told myself, with it being a Parent Trap retelling, I had to at least get to the part where the sisters decide to swap places. Only 7% of the way in, though, I just couldn’t handle it. I started skimming then, something I never do, reading just the dialogue and key moments between the sisters. I made it to 30%, just past when the sisters finally decide to swap, before finally deciding to quit. I knew this book wasn’t for me after the first few pages but I still wanted to give it a chance, and I ultimately ended up not enjoying anything that I read. 

The main problem is that nothing in Better Together works—the writing, the characterization, the fake swearing, the constant pop culture references, or the random magical element thrown into an otherwise contemporary book (which I’m not getting into because of spoilers but it’s infuriatingly confusing and out of place in this story). Then there’s the fact that our main characters Jamie and Siri are both adults in this book marketed for a young adult audience but written as if it’s for children. None of it works and none of it was enjoyable. 

The best thing about this book is the cover. It’s actually pretty cute. 

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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