*Thank you to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for providing me with an ARC of this book. Some parts may have been changed as I did not read the final book. Please know that all of the expressed thoughts are my honest opinions.
From all of the hype that Again, but Better was getting, I was expecting it to be one of my favorite reads of the year. I figured that as a booktuber wrote it, she would have a good idea of what does well in a YA novel. Now, I'm not pretending as if I could write a better story or that I have more knowledge of how it should've gone, but I just thought that some of the choices made were peculiar. All that said, there were parts that I did enjoy, but they were unfortunately overshadowed by the bad.
The best, but still annoying, thing about this book would have to be how relatable it is. There are just little things, mainly about the MC, that I found myself making my friends read. Shane is a Potterhead, a fan of lost, and super clumsy. It didn't make me fall in love with Shane because of how relatable she was, but it was nice to have the small moments that reminded me of my friends. But, Riccio tried too hard to make it relatable and quirky, which was a big "no" from me. Yes, some parts were nice, but others were just too much! Shane names her computer and exclusively refers to it, even to others, by the given name. I am perfectly fine with giving cars, laptops, whatever names, but it went a bit too far for me.
The story also seemed to be SO promising. A college-aged girl takes a semester abroad in London to work on her writing and make new friends, as her college experience so far has been lackluster. But besides those sweet moments that reminded me of my friends, it fell flat for me. The pacing was weird, the whole magic element completely threw me off, the late 2000's setting led to some cringy moments, and there were a lot of unanswered questions at the end.
The first thing that I want to address is the pacing of the book. It was extremely slow to me, and it never picked up. There were some attempts at variety, but they weren't written well and I never got into the moment. The book lagged on; I persisted though because I had heard such great things. Right before the magic part, which I'll touch on next, I quite honestly thought I was nearing the end of the book. I remember thinking to myself that it was finally wrapping up. I'm sure you can imagine my surprise when I realized that it was only the first half of the book. Even after the magic, the story dragged on. There weren't any super pressing stakes; I didn't suddenly become more engaged. Besides the noticeable changes (due to the magic), everything was the same. It was boring; I felt myself trying to finish it as soon as possible.
Magic-wise, I wasn't expecting what happened to happen; and it wasn't a happy surprise either. Let me clarify, I knew that something was going to happen. What happened was too coincidental, and wasn't even subtly integrated. It was very apparent that something was up; it didn't sneak up on me. But, I certainly didn't expect the type of magic that occurred to occur. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't what happened. I should have seen it coming from the title. But, the description said, "a touch of magic," and it wasn't a "touch." It was a lot more than that! Furthermore, it didn't add to the book. It took from it, and I wish that magic didn't exist in this book.
This book takes place in the late 2000s (2009-ish), and it led to some really cringe-worthy moments. The moments didn't impact the story too much, but it made it less enjoyable to read. The most prominent example of this that I can think of is the new favorite app, Angry Birds. There is a whole section of dialogue and two scenes about the app. It felt unreal, unauthentic, and extremely forced. I don't mind when the book is set in a different year, but moments like these that are so forced make me annoyed.
Finally, the ending and the epilogue had two main problems: there were too many unanswered questions and the epilogue seemed as if Riccio was projecting her desires for this book onto the MC's story. The unanswered questions mainly came from the magic aspect of the book. I didn't understand where it came from, as there wasn't any other magic in the world. Additionally, there was a character associated with the magic, and their part and skills were never fully explained. I was left wondering how they were able to do what they could do and if there were other cases or people who had that talent. The epilogue was written from an outside perspective (a book blog), and it was too similar to what I would imagine Riccio wants. In the epilogue, Shane is famous for her work and content, both professionally and socially. Maybe it is just me, but it seems too hopeful not to have Riccio's own desires mixed in.
Overall, this book fell notably flat for me. From the way people were talking about it, I was expecting a masterpiece. It was unfortunately far from that. I had too many problems with it from trying too hard to be relatable to unanswered questions at the end. There were some good parts in it, but they were entirely overshadowed by the bad. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. I know that a lot of people adored it, but it, and the magic, weren't for me.