My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Thank you, Macmillan, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I like a boy. He has a girlfriend who isn’t me, and it’s the worst.
When Christine revealed via BookTube that she was working on a novel, I was very excited. She’s a very funny and witty person, so her work must be the same, right? There’s usually a lot of skepticism when online celebs publish books, but Christine’s debut won’t make you feel that way because it’s undeniably and irrevocably her that you can’t help but wonder if it’s her pseudo-autobiography. Still, since Again, but Better is a work of fiction, everyone should deem all similarities to real people/events as coincidences. Harhar.
Shane, also known as French Watermelon Nineteen on the web, is not pleased with her social life, which is practically inexistent. At 20 years old, she has no friends in college. Also, as an aspiring author studying medicine, she feels alienated from herself. Yearning for a clean slate, she “convinces” her parents to send her to the UK for a creative writing program. There, Shane grabs the opportunity to reinvent her personality from super introverted to extremely bubbly and outgoing. She immediately befriends her roommates and even manages to pique the interest of a boy named Pilot Penn. (Yes, that wasn’t a typo error.) A lot of “traveling” ensues, particularly in the second half of the book.
Initially, I wasn’t sure about my rating, so I gave myself a week to evaluate my thoughts. Now, I am confident enough not to recant my three stars. For the most part, I enjoyed this book. The characters had remarkable names, the humor was great, and the plot twist was such a game changer, especially for a contemporary novel. I don’t want to cause discord in the BookTube community, but Again, but Better is probably more hype-worthy than Zenith. #FriendshipOver, anyone? LOL
Note: spoilers ahead
However, as much as I like Christine and her very relatable, bookish qualities in the form of Shane, I can’t disregard how her book sugarcoats the consequences of cheating. In retrospect, ABB doesn’t necessarily promote cheating. Shane herself berated herself for liking a taken boy. But if you put the spotlight on Pilot, you’ll realize that as cute as he is, he can be such a jerk. He kept on flirting with Shane during their European adventures even though he had a girlfriend (Amy) waiting for him back in America. Then, when he realized that he liked Shane more, he attempted to break up through voicemail. To be fair, unlike many YA stories, ABB didn’t portray Girlfriend #1 as catty or despicable. Er, but she didn’t have any backstory. She was just a plot device, a mere hindrance to Shane and Pilot’s budding romance. Does the absence of girl hate negate all the cheating? Hmm…
(end of spoilers)
Gleaning from the book’s title, I also disliked the repetitive tone of the narrative. It was like watching a modern slice-of-life anime, but the same events just happened again and again. And it wasn’t always for the better. Shane would wake up, attend class, go to the kitchen to write something, flirt with Pilot in a historical site, blah blah blah. Some chapters were helplessly formulaic. The climax was especially monotonous, and I almost had a reading slump because of it.
The final issue that I had was Shane’s shaky relationship with her parents. I understood that she didn’t want them to control her life or future career. I would’ve been angry if my Papa and Mama had forced me to be a doctor instead of the editor that I am today. Still, did Shane have to resort to such drastic measures? Her actions resulted in so much pain and distrust. It practically ruined their familial bond. So what if Shane had a fantastical means to do things differently?
In light of my conservative sentiments, I obviously have more negative things to say than positive ones. Regardless, this novel doesn’t deserve a lower rating. Objectively speaking, it’s satisfactory. In addition to its bookish MC, I’m sure that many readers will resonate with its delineation of anxiety disorder (Shane had some panic attacks) and gender positivity. These topics are prevalent today, so I guess the author is good at keeping up with the times.
Overall, Again, but Better screams Christine. Funny, nerdy, and vibrant. It’s a genuine product of Christine’s wacky imagination. Even though it’s not a perfect debut, it achieves Christine’s goal to make her readers happy. If only it were less like Anna and the French Kiss…