Again, But Better – review

Author: Christine Riccio
Publication date: May 7, 2019
Genre: young adult, contemporary, speculative fiction (?)
My rating: 1.5/5 stars

Note: I first published a version of this review on my Goodreads account in June 2019. I figured, with the fact that this dumpster fire is up for a Goodreads Choice Award now, I should clean it up a little and get my (very strong) opinions up here as well.

That was…disappointing. There were some promising elements (some of the details hit way too close to home…), and the premise was cool, but the execution was lacking, and it was a little painful to get through. For some context, I read this because the new Barnes and Noble YA Book Club chose it as their first monthly pick, and I was going to go to that discussion. But when I finished the book, I was not a huge fan–didn’t despise it, so I wasn’t going to rant about it or anything, but didn’t have any desire to spend even another minute on it. So when my mom and brother decided they were going to get Dairy Queen shortly before when I would have had to leave for that meeting, I opted to go get ice cream and skip the discussion altogether. That’s the kind of apathy I felt.

In retrospect, I actually did hate it a lot more than I initially thought, to the point that I decided to sell this book–which I had actually paid just about full price for, in hardcover–to Half-Price Books for about $3 (yeah, they’re kind of cheapskates…) because I didn’t want it on my shelf, nor did I want to give it to my friend who is a high school English teacher for her classroom library, because, again, it was garbage.

There might be some light spoilers here, but nothing you couldn’t deduce from the book’s blurb, I think, so here we go:

First things first, some disambiguation on the plot. This book is painted as a “second chance at everything in life” sort of deal, and I guess it is in some ways. Shane Primaveri is a super awkward pre-med student who lies to her parents in order to go study abroad and take a creative writing internship. She falls in love with a boy while abroad, but that boy has a girlfriend, so she languishes in awkward-girl dread, never gets to confess her feelings, returns home, and goes on to med school. This is literally half of the book, just her study abroad experience, which reads like basically a journal cataloging which countries she visited, how many times she knocked over the goddamn chairs in the apartment, and weird conversations with her flatmates that are supposed to be quirky I guess??

Halfway through the book, there is a flash forward of several years to when Shane is done with med school and applying for residency programs, hating her life, when a proposal from her boyfriend makes her flip out, hunt down the guy she fell in love with YEARS AGO, and ask him what to do, without giving him even the slightest warning that she is showing up at his workplace, which naturally freaks him out. Then presto, she and Pilot (that’s the boy, if you couldn’t tell) are whooshed back in time and are redoing their study abroad experience, and Shane tries to do the whole thing again…but better (*insert confetti for that title drop*).

There were some very specific elements of this book that made me really, really want to like it. As someone who was always the golden girl in school, high school valedictorian (or would have been if we actually did valedictorian), went to a top-15 university, etc, etc, I ran into a lot of the same problems Shane did in college. She was pressured to go pre-med and not pursue creative writing; I was initially a Neuroscience major and had to fight my parents to even let me DOUBLE-major in English. I had the same shouting matches with my parents that Shane did, about what I love and what I’m good at. I got the whole “yeah you’re a great writer, but you’re also good at math and science, so get a college degree that will make you money” spiel, many times over. When I did English-y stuff, I got the “you’re fucking up your life” rant, too. And, like Shane pre-Pilot, having (still) never had a boyfriend, I also had to deal with suspicion from my parents that I might be gay (which I’m not, or not exactly anyway–exclusionists are kind of crappy about whether we aces actually count as part of the LGBTQ+ community–but I liked the inclusion of that piece of parental commentary; I don’t hear about it happening to others much!). As I’m sitting now at a weird crossroads in my life, determining what comes next, applying to law schools while doing a lot of blogging and interning at a law firm and living back at home to save some money while I get physical therapy for my EDS and prepare for a minimally-invasive heart surgery (story for another day), I really like the idea of going back and getting to redo part of my life with the knowledge I have now.

Unfortunately, the telling of this promising tale just kind of falls apart. I have a whole bunch of issues, so I’m going to bullet-point them and try not to sound too rant-y:

– God, Shane is such a Harry Potter nerd. She inserts it into almost everything. I love Harry Potter, don’t get me wrong, but that “quirky factor” was played up too much.

– Her music taste was equally cringe-worthy. She talked so dang much about the Beatles and Taylor Swift. I’m fine with people liking certain bands–I will gladly talk your ear off about The Struts and/or Green Day if you ask me to–but not making them into every facet of their being.

– Also, for some reason, every chapter title was a song lyric, except some of them were not quoted quite right, and some of them were from songs that weren’t even mentioned in the book?

– There’s this weird red-haired British lady Shane meets on the plane to England at the start of the novel. Over the course of the book, she shows up several times, and I guess she is somehow linked to the whole “redo” that Shane and Pilot get, but they never really explain what the heck her purpose is, or how she made it happen?? She’s just kind of…there.

The writing is pretty mediocre. I’m sorry, but it had to be said. It was juvenile-sounding. And considering I graduated college literally a year ago, I don’t think it’s just a case of me being “out of touch” with what college kids sound like. Between the fact that Shane is supposed to be really smart and the fact that, again, she’s in COLLEGE, I would expect a little more maturity.

There were some small things I can’t believe an editor didn’t catch, like her referring to someone being “unsuspectedly attacked.” That doesn’t make sense–it should be unexpectedly. I don’t even know how you would interpret “unsuspectedly” in this context, honestly.

– Cringe-worthy attempts at making sure we know that Shane studied abroad in 2011. Angry Birds is a weirdly big deal, like playing it is some sort of plot point and becomes a flirtatious thing between Shane and Pilot. And Shane is weirdly obsessed with the song “Wrecking Ball,” which makes me want to just curl up and die.

– Other weird fixations of Shane’s, including shawarma. Why is she so obsessed with shawarma?? Yes, it’s good, but seriously, girl, calm down.

– The whole reason Shane wants a do-over on life ends up being because of a boy. This could have been a great story about empowerment and finding your own path, but SO MUCH of it was about liking Pilot and kissing him and flirting with him. The only reason she got the do-over in the first place is because she hunted down a boy (being really creepy, not even telling him she was showing up, having not talked to him in literally like 6 years or something) to ask if he had feelings for her ages ago, because she doesn’t know if she wants to get married.

– One big plot hole: how the heck did Shane get into a creative writing internship for a study abroad program, having not taken a single creative writing course? What professors would have recommended her? What place would have told her, “Oh, yeah, come intern with us, even though you have done literally nothing related to this in either your classwork or on the side!”

– Another big plot hole: she lied to her parents about the program and it took them until well after she had arrived in Europe to figure it out? For parents who micromanage her life so much, judging her career choices and stuff, I can’t believe they didn’t look more closely into the fake brochure she made them, or the details of her program, or the place she told them she was interning at. It just doesn’t make sense.

– People say there were a lot of self-inserts from the author in this book. Now, I don’t watch Christine Riccio’s BookTube channel, but even the similarity between her username (polandbananasBOOKS) and Shane’s username (French Watermelon Nineteen) is a little too obvious, but from what I’ve read, there are a TON. Self-inserts from single personality traits or one or two niche areas of interest are cool. Self-inserts on every single detail of your life are just lazy.

Another never-addressed loophole: with Shane and Pilot having basically six extra years on everyone else they encounter, they have a natural leg up on everything just from having more life experience. Shane has extra confidence, especially. When Shane totally screws up her first day at her internship during her do-over, she is somehow able to still win over everyone there over the next couple weeks by being Miss Ultra Professional, bringing in bagels for everyone and knowing what sort of tea everyone likes, and I don’t know how the hell anyone would see that behavior and think, “Oh, yeah, that’s normal for a college girl at her first internship.” And yet this weird extra-time thing was never elaborated on or explored in depth?

The ending was…big cringe. Not going into details, but I kind of hated it.

Shane’s so-called anxiety felt really forced and like it just came and went as needed throughout the book. It was never something she formally addressed, like, ever, and was basically just a cheap plot device. There wasn’t even any indication of her formally addressing it–I guess it just went away once she had a beautiful boyfriend? I’m just saying, if you’re going to include mental health problems in your book, you need to handle them well, and this just…didn’t do that.

– Small thing that annoyed me: people just didn’t know about really, REALLY popular books. Shane mentions a couple books to the people in her flat, and none of them know what she’s talking about, and it’s not because they haven’t been released yet. Apparently, these people–who have way more vibrant social lives than Shane, and therefore really don’t live under rocks–have never heard of City of Bones or The Da Vinci Code. I’ll forgive them the first one, maybe, if they just didn’t know anyone who was a teen or never walked into a bookstore that might have prominently displayed the series (i.e. any major bookstore ever), but The Da Vinci Code was hugely popular, AND it was a movie, and somehow none of them had heard of it. That pissed me off more than it should have.

– There are never any real consequences for how wrong it was for Shane to just show up and forcibly reinsert herself into Pilot’s life. He’s mad at her for a bit, but then they become a couple? Girl, that behavior is so invasive and uncalled for, not to mention super creepy that she looked up everything about him to figure out just where to go to stalk surprise him with a gigantic request that is frankly unfair to him.

In conclusion…this book kind of sucked. The only reason I am giving it an extra half-star is that there were those few moments that did feel tremendously relatable. If you like cliches and predictable YA, you can give this one a go, I guess. You might enjoy it, especially if you like the whole “i’M sO aWkwArd aNd QuiRkY aNd mY aNxIetY iS CuTe” type of protagonist. It’s a quick and easy read, so you won’t feel like you wasted TOO much time, but personally, I wish I hadn’t bought it.

5 thoughts on “Again, But Better – review

  1. Amanja November 18, 2019 / 11:45 am

    Great review!! Sounds like a pile of shoehorned in pop culture references from someone who’s very out of touch and also forgot to write a coherent book. Guess I’ll steer clear of this one!

    Like

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