If you’ve been around the bookish pockets of the internet, then it’s highly likely you’ll have heard about popular booktuber, Christine Riccio, or PolandBananasBooks. If you’re a fan of Christine’s videos, then you’ll also know that she’s been working on a book since at least 2016 which is now finally at the end of the publishing road. It’s titled Again, but Better and I was lucky enough to receive an ARC.
Who, What, Where?
Shane’s been doing college all wrong – she’s studying a major she has no passion for, has made zero friends, and her love-life is non-existent. In the hopes of changing things up, she applies for a semester abroad creative writing program in London and an internship at a prominent travel magazine. To ensure she makes the most of the experience, Shane sets herself a list of goals – kick ass at her internship, start a novel, kiss a boy, make friends, and have adventures. However, when reality begins to set in, things quickly start to fall apart. But what if, with the help of a little magic, Shane had the chance for a do-over?
Bogged Down or Too Blunt
Having watched a few snippets of Christine’s book writing videos, I know that the first draft of Again, but Better was around 120,000 words. I couldn’t understand how this could possibly be until I actually read the ARC.
Now, this is a book that would have needed A LOT of editing.
Why? There’s just so much unnecessary detail. Being able to vividly visualise scenes is great, but there’s a point where it becomes information overload. Do I really need to know every detail about every street, building, corner, and shop on Shane’s journey to the supermarket? No. You’re writing a novel, not a London guide book.
On the flip side, the chapter ends have the opposite problem. While a lot of the story feels almost gushy, the chapters always seem to end in abrupt (but not cliff-hanger-y) ways. It’s almost as though you’d expect it to be the middle of a scene rather than the end. Because of this they felt a little jarring and anti-climactic, impacting the flow of the novel for me.
Didn’t You Realise, it’s 2011
A large chunk of ABB is set in 2011. This is fine but, for some reason, the book feels the need to remind us repeatedly. If I’d been doing shots for 2011 references, I’d have been on the floor. Shane playing Angry Birds. Shot. Avril Lavigne’s ‘What the Hell?’ plays. Shot. Now it’s Rihanna’s ‘Who’s that Chick?’. Double shot. Shane is re-reading City of Glass for City of Fallen Angels. SHOOOOOTTTTT. Luckily for my liver, the name dropping does calm down in the second half. Even better, Christine stops trying to casually (or awkwardly) integrate the references. Instead, she even manages to turn them into a fun part of the time travel experience.
Christine, is That You?
As someone who isn’t a PolandBananasBooks fan, after I while, even I started to notice that ABB’s MC, Shane has…er…well, a lot in common with Christine. Visually, they’re both white, blonde girls with slim builds who like their eyeliner. Both have Italian families, social anxiety, and dream of being published authors. Christine’s username is PolandBananas20 while Shane’s blog is FrenchWatermelon19. They like the same books and music, name their laptops, and speak in the same generally excitable, “quirky” way. I get that authors are encouraged to write what they know, but when your MC is basically you, it does mean that your writing starts sounding a lot like wish fulfillment. As a result, there were parts of this that ended up feeling just a little bit cringy – especially the happily ever after ending.
A Re-Do on Boring
Plot wise, I enjoyed the second half of ABB more than the first. The way the book is set out is: Shane does London take 1#, short intermission in the present before BAM time travel twist, then Shane does London take 2#. The problem with take 1# is that much of it feels like an extended prologue – laying down the ground work for parts of take 2#. While there were a couple of moments where things picked up, most of the time I found myself bored. There are a lot of mundane conversations, quite a bit of repetition, and lengthy sections involving Shane recounting uninteresting details of her day-to-day life in her notebook.
The beginning of take 2# is where things picked up a LOT. The humour was better, the writing smoother, and the plot showed more direction. Then, to my frustration, (a) it slowed down again and (b) the characters returned to making frustrating decisions. *groans*.
A Bit of Positivity
At this point, I feel like I’m crapping all over a young author’s debut novel. So, with that in mind here are a few of the things I liked about ABB:
- The book does have some genuinely funny elements e.g. Shane’s war with the flat’s dining chairs and her recount of the way she spent her spring break. Basically me.
- Despite having issues with them as separate characters, I did root for Shane and her love interest, Pilot, to end up together. They have some nice interactions, especially in take 2#.
- While the ending was rushed, unrealistic and corny, I couldn’t help finding it very cute. Stupid swoony heart, you’re supposed to be a cynic! Must be the magic of Taylor Swift.
- *spoiler* There’s a really lovely moment during take 2# in which Shane helps out her cousin who is struggling with coming out. Super sweet.
- I’m sure there will be people out there who can relate with Shane’s anxiety issues, and she does have a couple of panic attacks during the novel.
While I hate to say it, I wasn’t much of a fan of this one and probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t a big Christine viewer (because it has her written all over it). Again, but Better has its brighter moments, but unfortunately they’re often overshadowed by the novel’s lower points.
*** ARC received from St Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.***