Goodreads: Better Together
Genres: Contemporary; Young Adult; Romance; Fiction; Magical Realism; LGBTQ+; Retelling
Publication date: June 1, 2021
Jamie’s an aspiring standup comic in Los Angeles with a growing case of stage anxiety.
Siri’s a stunning ballerina from New Jersey nursing a career-changing injury.
They’ve both signed up for the same session at an off the grid Re-Discover Yourself Retreat in Colorado. When they run into each other, their worlds turn upside down.
Jamie and Siri are sisters, torn apart at a young age by their parent’s volatile divorce. They’ve grown up living completely separate lives: Jamie with their Dad and Siri with their Mom. Now, reunited after over a decade apart, they hatch a plot to switch places. It’s time they get to know and confront each of their estranged parents.
With an accidental assist from some fortuitous magic, Jamie arrives in New Jersey, looking to all the world like Siri, and Siri steps off her flight sporting a Jamie glamour.
The sisters unexpectedly find themselves stuck living in each other’s shoes. Soon Siri’s crushing on Jamie’s best friend Dawn. Jamie’s falling for the handsome New Yorker she keeps running into, Zarar. Alongside a parade of hijinks and budding romance, both girls work to navigate their broken family life and the stresses of impending adulthood.
Freaky Friday meets The Parent Trap in New York Times bestselling author Christine Riccio’s Better Together, a sparkling and heartfelt story about sisters, second chances, finding romance, and finding yourself.
I’m losing my shit over here. I know 100 percent of my focus needs to be on reconnecting with Siri right now, but I’m spiraling out about Zarar. It happened. I sat there with him and spilled my whole life story. We got up, we had lunch together, and I told him everything. I broke my own fucking rule. My shit is mine. I can handle it myself.Chapter 20, Page 82
Christine Riccio found a place in my heart through her silly antics on her YouTube/BookTube channel PolandBananasBOOKS. When she released her first book Again, But Better, I happily picked it up. While I wasn’t sure if I’d like the story going into it, the book certainly grew on me. If you’d like to read my thoughts on this story right after I read it, click here.
While this isn’t a review for Again, But Better, I do first want to touch on it and how my opinion of the story changed. Briefly, I promise. The primary thing I want to touch on is the staying power of this story. I first read this story in 2019, and I’ve read quite a few books since. Yet this book’s plot and characters have popped into my mind multiple times over the years – each time with fondness. Sure I might not have had the most profound reading experience while reading Again, But Better, but the staying power of this story speaks for itself. For a debut novel from a personality I was already aware of, this was a great experience for me.
Because of that, when I saw Better Together in the bookstore I had to pick it up. And I’ve got to tell you – I’m glad I did. And having read Better Together, I’m seriously considering picking Again, But Better up again.
Better Together gave me everything that Again, But Better fell just short of. The characters felt more real, more like individual personalities instead of extensions of Riccio herself. The world was more flushed out, containing more depth and layers to it. She touched on the emotions of grief and hopelessness, of finding yourself and coming to terms with a new future. And she did all of this organically.
It was clear to me from page 1 that Riccio has matured as an author.
It’s been years since I’ve watched either Freaky Friday or The Parent Trap, but I still remember them with fond memories. Going into this read, I wasn’t sure how Riccio was going to bring these two stories together. I wasn’t sure how true she’d stay to the source material, how many liberties she’d take with the plots.
Dear reader, I’m happy to report that I loved how she handled combining these stories together. The liberties she took helped enhance the source material and allowed these two strong plotlines to coexist. Some of the changes she made even helped the stories feel more real, more plausible and seeded in reality.
If you’re looking for a story with a cookie cutter ending, I’m afraid this isn’t going to be book for you. But if you’re looking for a story with a positive, open ending with endless possibilities, then I’d recommend giving this story a try.
I’m going to try and hold back a bit in this review, but only because I think you should go into this story with a fresh mind and no expectations. If you haven’t read this story yet, come back when you have. If you’ve read the story or insist spoilers are fine, then please – continue reading.
Predictable romances done right:
Siri might not have switched places with Jamie to fall in love with her best friend, but the connection between them was somehow both instantaneous and yet organically grown. They didn’t jump into the romance the second Dawn discovered who Siri was. They got to know each other – quickly and intensely – and discovered they liked what the other person had to offer.
This wasn’t an insta-love situation where everything happens like breathing. No, they struggled with keeping it a secret from Jamie – about whether it should be a secret, if it should be a snow globe relationship. They worked at keeping in touch once Siri went back to her own life, but the long distance thing kind of drifted off and they stopped talking to each other all the time. But the story ends with a what may be in this relationship. It’s open ended, for sure, but there’s the potential of a future between these two.
Jamie might believe there’s no such thing as a healthy, long term relationship before she meets Zarar, but he sure does his best to change her mind about this. His persistence in asking her out could come across as too forceful or annoying, but it doesn’t. He doesn’t do it in a negative way, or keep pushing when Jamie is uncomfortable with his attention. Zarar makes his intentions towards Jamie clear, but never pushes himself on her, never forces her to spend time with him or do anything that she doesn’t want to do. He respects her and her autonomy, he respects her quirks and insecurities. But he also sees that it’s going to take a lot of work to get her to notice his innocent affection for her.
I like that Jamie doesn’t give in to his affections right away, doesn’t change her stance on romance for a long time. She grew up not knowing a healthy adult relationship, not believing that love can last. So she believed the best thing she could have was a snow globe relationship – perfect in the moment, but not long enough to be destroyed.
Zarar’s attention and affection allowed him to slowly break down Jamie’s barriers and prove to her that romance can last, that it can be a healthy relationship between two people. Of course Jamie was going to make mistakes and try to sabotage her own happiness. And I adored the way Riccio wrote this. I adored the moment where Jamie told Zarar he only had Siri’s number. I adored her attempt at recreating their meeting by throwing papers into the air after running into him. I adored that Jamie struggled to accept Zarar liked her for her and not for what she could give him in the moment.
Jamie needed a healthy relationship in her life. She needed someone who could be her rock, could keep her tethered to reality while not forcing her to stay grounded.
Glitter. Also affectionately known as craft herpes due to the impossible nature of trying to clean it up. Also also not something I expected to be tied to a magical transformation. But I’m not mad at it. In fact, I thought this was a clever edition to the story.
I also really appreciate the fact that the glitter didn’t only make 1 appearance. As nasty as glitter snot sounds, it also sounds pretty freaking hilarious. I would have loved to see Siri and Jamie snot all over themselves when they came clean about their identities and how they feel about the who situation. I would have loved to see the shocked expressions of those around them when it happened.
Knowing Riccio has two siblings – a brother and a sister – it makes sense that the sisterly “love” between the two girls felt so real. Siri might have been told that Jamie was a figment of her imagination, but she quickly got over that. It wasn’t the most solid of relationships, but the two of them still put work into it right from the beginning.
Jamie might have traumatic feelings about Siri from their childhood and never feeling like she was enough, but that didn’t stop her from treating Siri like the little sister she hadn’t seen in years. It didn’t stop them from disagreeing and getting into spats. It didn’t stop them from comparing themselves to each other. They were still able to meet in the middle, even if their their motivations didn’t always line up.
Other reviews for Riccio’s work: