“Again, but Better” is Booktuber Christine Riccio’s debut novel. Riccio is known on YouTube as PolandbananasBOOKS, where she films book reviews, book hauls, author interviews and other book related videos.

Sometimes she branches out of her BookTube content with videos like “Top 5 Worst Movies of 2018” and videos with her family members, where she’ll give her followers a peak into the hilarious dynamics between her and her siblings. Alongside all her various endeavors, with Jesse George and Kat O’Keeffe, Riccio is one of the founding members of “Booksplosion,” a monthly read-a-long book club on YouTube.

Over the years, Riccio has amassed more than 400,000 YouTube subscribers thanks to her fun and brash onscreen personality, and ever since announcing that she’d be publishing her first novel, she has been posting update videos on her writing progress. With so much anticipation and so many dedicated followers, there were a lot of expectations for Riccio’s first book.

Did “Again, but Better,” live up to the hype?

“Again, but Better,” is a book about Shane Primaveri, a 20-year-old college student studying pre-med, because that’s what her parents want her to do. But what she really wants is to become a writer. With no purpose, friends or boyfriend, Shane is feeling discouraged about her life, so she decides to start over in a new country and study abroad in a creative writing program.

Shane soon realizes, however, that leaving all of her problems behind for a new country won’t fix things, and her new life in London starts to crumble; however, with some willpower and an element of magic, Shane is able to overcome anything that life throws her way.

The premise of “Again, but Better” makes it seem like the book is just a rip-off of Stephanie Perkins’s “Anna and the French Kiss.” Both characters have tension with their parents, and they both fall in love with a guy while they’re studying abroad. But it’s not between “Anna and the French Kiss” and “Again, but Better” where the similarities lie. It’s between her main character and Riccio’s own life where the resemblance can be seen. “Again, but Better” reads like a fantastical version of Riccio’s study abroad experience.

Shane has an online presence in the form of a blog, which is called FrenchWatermelon19, much like Riccio with her YouTube username PolandbananasBOOKS, and its derivative, Polandbananas20. Just like Riccio, her main character studied abroad in London, and as anyone who is familiar with her videos will notice, Shane and Riccio share the same obsessions: the television show “Lost” and the books “The Da Vinci Code, “Twilight” and “The Mortal Instruments.”

She constantly drops references to that show and those books. This gives the novel a personal touch to longtime followers, but if you just want to read the book and you don’t have knowledge of her YouTube channel, then these references might feel jarring because they pop up frequently, but don’t do much to move the story along.

The Good Parts

“Again, but Better” showcased just how important it is to get out of your comfort zone and to experience new things. For the main character Shane, that important experience was studying abroad.

Shane was able to experience new styles of education and new cultures, all while making friends and gaining valuable career and life skills. Many students who study abroad consider it to be one of the most pivotal experiences of their life, which is why seeing the experience Shane has studying abroad is one of the highlights of the book.

You’ll wish it was you when Shane takes those weekend European trips, even when she’s staying in a hostel with strangers or losing her purse in Rome. And even if you’ve never been to London, you’ll feel like you’ve been shopping for groceries at Tesco.

Leaving all of her troubles behind and traveling to London didn’t solve her problems, but Shane not only learned important things about herself during her travels, she gained valuable insight, knowledge and connections that will aid her in her future.

Studying abroad isn’t an option for all students, but after reading “Again, but Better,” you’ll want to see what your college offers for study abroad programs and start looking up grants and scholarships to see if you can find your way to London too.

The Lackluster Parts

Unfortunately, not all aspects of the book are as charming as the travel depicted. Parts of the novel fall a little bit flat.

Because Riccio does a lot of telling, without much showing, time will fly by without your notice. For instance, Shane raves about the writing internship she’s participating in while abroad, explaining how awesome it is, but you don’t get to read the details of the supposedly amazing experience or see how Shane grows as a writer. Instead, her internship is over before you know it, and four months have somehow occurred within a few short chapters of the book.

Since most conversations and events are told instead of shown, the biggest issue that this leads to in the book is an underdeveloped romantic plot. At first, it’s easy to understand why a 20-year-old girl far from home for the first time would develop a crush on the cute guy named Pilot, who’s in the same program as her. You want to feel excited for her and see their cute relationship unfold. But the book makes it hard to sympathize with Shane and Pilot’s relationship.

Riccio opts to tell readers when romance is happening on the page instead of developing an emotional connection that readers can root for, even writing at one point, “This is something! THIS IS ROMANCE.” And along with an undercurrent of emotional cheating between the two characters, their two-dimensional romance makes their relationship borderline unlikeable and not very cute.

The Verdict

Did Christine Riccio’s debut novel live up to the hype? Not completely. If you’re one of Riccio’s longtime fans, you will enjoy reading the references to Riccio’s life. But if you’re picking the book up with no knowledge of its history, then you’ll notice some issues.

However, Riccio’s debut novel is a fun read that will make you feel like you just got back from your own study abroad trip. Traveling from country to country isn’t an option for all students, but this book will make you want to get out of your comfort zone and try as many new experiences as possible, whether that’s studying abroad or trying something a little closer to home.

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