Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Genres: YA, Contemporary, Romance, New Adult, Fiction, Chick Lit, Realistic Fiction, Coming of Age
I found this book enjoyable overall but I believe that Riccio’s writing still needs a little work. The second half of this book was better written, in my opinion, possibly due to more practice by the time those scenes were edited. I’ll definitely be interested in anything Riccio writes in the future as I know this was her debut novel so her writing can only go up from here.
I understand that Riccio is an enthusiastic person (or at least appears that way in her videos), I felt like there was an overuse of exclamation marks throughout the story. There’s many ways to show a character is excited or talking animated about something without using exclamation marks. I hope that in her future works Riccio uses them more effectively.
While the first half of the book seemed to drag on, the second half of the book flew by for me. That’s a bigger percentage of the book than I’d like to struggle through, but I believe the payoff in the second half was worth it. As well, my struggle could be from knowing so much about Riccio before digging into this book.
As she is a YouTuber/BookTuber (her channel is PolandBananasBOOKS and I’d recommend checking it out if you haven’t already), the world gets to know Riccio as a person more so than they do most authors. While I believe this was great publicity for her, I do feel that it was detrimental to the characters as individual entities. I know that all writers place a little bit of themselves into their characters, but there were times where I could make direct comparisons between what Riccio has said/done on her YouTube channel and what her characters said/did. This pulled me out of the story as these fictional characters became less individualized in my mind.
I know that Riccio put a lot of work into everything, including the design of her books. That makes the tie in that the hardcover embossing has to the plot that much enjoyable. Both the Barnes & Noble and the Target exclusive editions have embossed images that tie into the story beautifully. Sometimes it’s the little things that make me happy.
Overall, I recommend this read to anyone who’s interested in a lighthearted coming of age tale. I know that Riccio wanted to write a book with University/College aged characters and I believe she did so wonderfully.
Before you go away thinking that I only have bad things to say about this book, know that there’s also a lot that I enjoyed. Otherwise, I would not have rated it as high as I did. I enjoyed Riccio’s characters and the twists in the book. I enjoyed the plots itself, even if I think it could have been better executed. And I really did enjoy the ending of the story. The reason I haven’t gone into detail about these things is because my full thoughts on them require spoilers. So, if you’d like to hear more about what I did like about this book, please read the story for yourself and then come back. Everything I have to say after this point contains spoilers and I wouldn’t want to ruin anything for others!
“Well, things inspire me and make me happy and feel more understood… if I can give that to someone else by recommending my things, I want to.” (p 286)
While this isn’t really a spoiler, there was a point in the beginning of the story where Riccio mentions that all museums in England are free. Having been to England myself, I’d like to clarify that this isn’t true. She might have meant that the museums are free to the exchange students, but that wasn’t made clear in her writing. Museums in England are donation based entrance fees which does not make them free. If you go in without paying a donation at all, I’d say that’s almost the same as sneaking in. Please don’t go around thinking that English museums are free to the public. If you want to visit any museums, please bring at least a small donation as your entrance fee.
Above, I mentioned the embossed images on the exclusive editions of Again, But Better. While I love that these tie in to Shane’s blog (FrenchWatermelonNineteen), in my opinion this too closely resemble’s Riccio’s own YouTube channel (in this case, PolandBananas20) as Shane’s reasoning for the name of her blog is almost identical to Riccio’s reasoning for the name of her YouTube channel. While Christine hasn’t posted on this channel in 3 years, instead posting all of her content on PolandBananasBOOKS, the similarities remain glaring. While I admit that the origin of both names is unique, I feel like Shane’s blog name should have been different as this is a case of art imitating life too closely. To me, having the names being so similar is almost a cop out.
Moving on to something I really enjoyed about the story – Shane and Pilot’s relationship. I loved reading the struggle between the two during both timelines. They’re both adorable dorks when they’re together. They also both act like university/college aged people, unsure of their decisions in life and how to handle things. Sure, it took them a couple tries to figure things out, but in real life that’s also how it goes. Nobody’s going to deal with things perfectly the first time and these two were lucky enough to get a second shot at things.
And while it may not seem like she made the best call, I really do think that Shane was in the right by deciding to choose herself over a boy. Yes, she could have tried to figure out her life while still being with Pilot but sometimes things aren’t as easy as that. Shane got a chance to finally try living life for herself, no longer trying to be the perfect daughter and please everyone around her. And what did she do? She wasn’t able to find herself because she was too busy being “Shane in a relationship”. Riccio did things right by making Shane break things off with Pilot at this point because Shane did need to try being her own person. She needed this break in order to realize her mistakes and grow from them. Yes it hurt both of them, but it allowed both Pilot and Shane to grow as individuals and to decide what kind of people they wanted to be from that point forward.
I’m glad that she didn’t push the button as an easy escape route (either time she thought about it). While Pilot was the one that originally wanted to find the escape button and go back to 2017, I’m glad that both of them remained in the past to figure their lives out.
Another thing that I enjoyed was getting to read Shane’s journal posts throughout the book. It made it that much more jarring when Amy grabbed her journal and read it. That’s such a violation of privacy and Amy was vocal about having no regrets in doing it.
I think that this whole scenario was a great use of character development from Riccio. It shows that even though Shane felt violated by the intrusion, she cared too much about Pilot and his opinion of Amy to tell him who read her journal even though she had plenty of chances to. Yes, it caused Shane to stop using her journals as she didn’t trust them or peoples’ respect enough. But it was also a useful tool to show Shane growing as her own person.
After she flung Sawyer off the chair and it died, Shane went back to her journals as a lifeline almost. Sure she still relied on her work laptop or Babe’s generosity in order to post her blog posts. But relying on the journal as a way to get her thoughts out, even to start writing her story, showed Shane’s growth as an individual. To me, this represented Shane’s ability to finally move on from a past that doesn’t exist in her current timeline. Yes it’s hard to move past something that’s effected you so strongly, but Shane was finally able to see that the one instance of Amy breaking her boundaries – a person she didn’t even know – wasn’t enough to fundamentally change Shane’s outlook on writing things down on paper.
Plus, as someone who loves handwriting my own thoughts and opinions about things I really enjoyed seeing Shane go back to her roots.
Another thing that I think Riccio did well was contrast the events from the original timeline to the secondary timeline. One of my favourite scenes that demonstrated this would have to be Chad attempting to kiss Shane at the bar in Paris. Original Shane was hilarious but Second Shane was pretty badass in the moment.
While Shane and Babe were great characters to read about, I’ve got to say that the redheaded woman is my favourite. I love a good dose of speculative fiction and this woman was a welcome character to the story. I enjoyed her popping up throughout the first half of the book as it helped bring a little bit of excitement to parts of the book I found dragging. The fact that she showed up less in the second half was great as well. It shows that Shane was finally living the life the she was meant to live. And her popping up just to say “that’s not how this works” was a cute touch. Well done, Riccio.
I must say, one of my favourite scenes might just be one of the deleted scenes that Riccio added to the Barnes & Noble exclusive edition. Seeing how people in “the future” react to Shane and Pilot’s silly cover of Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus was adorable. I can see why it was cut, as it didn’t add anything to the overall plot, but it’s just so cute!