Again, But Better by Christine Riccio
Time goes so much faster now that I’m not enjoying it.Shane Primaveri (😑)
Again, But Better by Christine Riccio is a new adult novel about a young woman pushing herself to embrace new things and pursue her dreams. This is Riccio’s first novel.
Shane Primaveri travels to London to start her semester abroad. She plans to do things differently this semester, namely by making friends, writing, and kissing a boy (which she’s never done before). When she get’s there, she meets her new roommates, Babe and Sahra (pronounced Say-ra), and the flatmates: Pilot and Atticus. The group forms a friendship and soon they’re enjoying weekend trips to Paris and Rome and Shane is loving her new internship at a travel magazine office. Things are looking up, especially a potential romantic relationship with Pilot, until all hell breaks loose when Shane’s parents arrive, unannounced, and learn that Shane has lied about her study abroad track which her parents thought was premed. Will Shane be able to make her parents realize the importance of following her dreams or will everything fall apart?
I received a complimentary copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press/ Wednesday Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
When I first started this book, I’m not gonna lie, I was really excited. A YA novel about a college-age woman? Yes! Awesome! And then, through the first few chapters it became very obvious that though Shane is 21, she is far from being a new adult. She is such a child. She speaks like a teen, acts like a tween, and is apparently like a newborn cold trying to walk/run for the first time. She can’t. Honestly, she can barely stand up from a chair without knocking it over (she knocks over just about ever chair she ever sits on) and is seemingly incapable of handling herself in any situation. The book is just a series of blunders that she somehow manages to survive because of the friends she somehow manages to make.
My main issues with this book are due to my dislike of Shane and also SPOILERS, DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED!!! the seemingly unnecessary and completely out-of-left-field time travel. Yeah, that’s right. This seemingly slice-of-life story has time travel. Not only did the time travel come out of nowhere, but was provided by a deus ex machina in the form of a woman(?) who periodically shows up throughout Shane’s study abroad semester and then somehow orchestrates the time travel when things don’t go Shane’s way. Not only is this woman and her magic powers completely unexplained, but the time travel happens only after six years have passed after Shane’s semester goes disastrously wrong. This not only makes the book unnecessarily wrong, it also forces me, the reader, to have to re-live parts of the book over (and I really, really didn’t want to) and does nothing to solve character development problems that occur from the beginning. In fact, some of the characters completely disappear in the re-lived portion of the book (Where, oh where did you go, Atticus?). Additionally, the time travel allows both Shane and Pilot to remember their past, but they somehow think that if they return back to their previous lives (in the future…) they’ll forget what they re-lived, even though this is never explained to them.
The book also suffers from too many plot lines. Shane is trying to pursue her dreams of being a writer, which her, in my opinion verbally abusive, father is completely against because he grew up poor as shit because his dad wanted to be a poet but never really made it so he believes no-one who pursues writing can amount to anything and he’s just looking out for Shane, even though he doesn’t seem to actually like his daughter for real. I say this because he, and her mom, honestly, can’t seem to bring themselves to think about their daughters interests and want her to only do what they want her to do (namely to become a doctor). The moment Shane tries to break away from this mold, not only does her dad call her a “piece of shit” and, later, a “little brat” (how old is he? Five?), but he also takes her phone and crushes it beneath his foot. Oh yeah, and all this happens in a restaurant. In public. Her parents continue to hold her dreams against her and seemingly never forgive her after they discover her lie. I’m sorry – but even if I lied to my parents like Shane did, I think my parents, who actually love me, would eventually forgive me and we’d move past it. Hell, I think my parents would eventually come to respect my wishes after seeing how unhappy I am doing something I don’t want to do. Not so with Shane.
In addition to this, Shane deals with her cousin’s confession of being gay and wanting to drop out of school, Pilot’s parent’s divorce, Pilot’s girlfriend finding out about their almost relationship and completely ruining their friendship, and Shane’s desire to write the next Great American Novel. Oh yeah, and there’s time travel! This book has so much going on and it’s just so unfocused that I could not bring myself to care after a certain point. I never warmed up to Shane, or Pilot for that matter, and this made caring about the book really difficult, since a large portion of it centers on their relationship, which, to me, also felt really artificial (I mean, Shane orchestrates practically everything, from their “okay, okay” phrase, “lamppost” to having to make each romantic gesture be a “move.”)
I could go on, but this section is already too long.
Literary Value: 2/5
I’ll be upfront: the writing is not good. Riccio spends a lot of time telling instead of showing. Almost everything that Shane feels/experiences is told through long, expressive interior monologues. For example, when Shane is interacting with Pilot, she notes that Pilot’s “eyes get bright like eyes do when you talk about something you’re passionate about,” (Chapter 6). Riccio falls back on this kind of descriptive again and again, which ultimately fills the work with endless streams of words that become grating after a while. I understand trying to avoid writing cliches, but Riccio seems incapable of coming up with her own way of describing things simply. Instead, it’s long-winded descriptors that you may or may not have experienced personally.
Riccio also spends a lot of time setting up a group of characters, only to drop them completely in the second half of the book. Atticus becomes almost non-existent, as does Sahra. Too much of the book is given over to Shane’s long, internal contemplation. And for me, Shane is far too much of a cutsy/clutsy “naive” girl to stand that much time in her head. Aside from her deciding to do things “her way” the second time around, I don’t see much growth in her character. She’s still so juvenile, it’s hard to believe she’s 26 in the latter half. Her interactions with adults make this painfully obvious, especially when she’s shocked to hear that Wendy, the head of the travel magazine office, is a manager of a successful magazine and also married. The idea that one can have a relationship and also have a successful career are is mind-boggling to her, which makes no sense outside of the fact that it fits Riccio’s plot conflict. It’s really clumsy and awkward and doesn’t do the story any favors.
Ultimately, Riccio’s story comes across more like a fan fiction than an actual novel. The story is full of plot holes, the character development is shoddy, and the overall message rings false, since it’s acquired at the hands of deus ex machina magic and not, in actuality, through Shane’s own efforts to turn her life around. Being given a second-chance is great, but I would appreciate this message more if it just meant Shane’s semester abroad was her second chance, rather than involving time travel and artificially creating a do-over.
Entertainment Factor: 1/5
I just did not enjoy this story. I didn’t find any of it enjoyable, which is so surprising, given that the story takes place in Europe, which I love, and is a new adult novel. Shane annoyed me too much for me to enjoy her story. Pilot and the other characters just didn’t come across as real people. The writing was excessively cutsy and overly descriptive. There was sudden and unexpected (and unwanted, to be honest) time travel. There was a deus ex machina that went completely unexplained. It was just one thing after another that had me shaking my head and unable to get into the story. I can’t think of one thing that I liked about this book, other than that I am finally done reading it.
Cover Art: 3/5
The cover is okay. I think the colors are fine and the artsy look to it is interesting and eye-catching. However, I don’t get a good enough idea of the setting of the book – I can only barely tell that the skyline is London. I also don’t really get the character being half-drawn? Is this supposed to be representing that she’s finding herself? That she’s trying to start over? I don’t really read it that way, but that’s as close as I can figure as to why the girl is depicted this way. I don’t know why she’s walking from a completely white space into a colored space. I just don’t associate this image with what happens in the book. But I don’t hate it, so I guess that’s what matters.
Overall Rating: 2/5 Notebooks
This book just failed to capture my interest, despite having the perfect set-up to do so. I failed to enjoy its characters, the writing, or the story itself. It was just not good. I probably would have DNF’d it if I didn’t feel obligated to write a review, since I received it as an ARC. I just wish Riccio had spent less time writing exactly how Shane was feeling, how people reacted to things and just showed me through actions and emotions. Everything was explained, rather than shown, and that’s a pretty big no-no when it comes to writing. This is her debut novel and she doesn’t have a background as a writer, so I’m not surprised that this work isn’t successful, but that doesn’t make me any less disappointed in the execution or the lack of a cohesive story.
Thoughts & Thanks
Thanks for reading this review. It means a lot to me that you stopped by to see what I thought about this book. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s talk about this book – have you read it? What did you think? Did you love it/hate it? I’d love to hear from you.