‘Again, but Better’ – Christine Riccio

Again, but Better seems to have very mixed reviews, and though it won’t go down as one of my favourite reads I enjoyed many elements of it. I had no awareness of the author prior to reading this, and I can’t decide whether or not that was a good thing – but certainly meant I was able to take the story at face value.

The story itself is straightforward. Hard-working student, Shane, hasn’t really felt comfortable in her chosen studies. Her parents want her to go into medicine as it’s a safe choice. She’s always worked hard to try and fulfil their hopes for her, but evidently doesn’t really enjoy it. Her passion is reading and she dreams of being a writer. So it comes as little surprise when she finds a way to organise a semester studying abroad – in London, on a creative writing course.

We watch Shane arrive in London and settle into her new life. She ends up with new flat mates that she finds great fun, and loves the freedom she has to travel to new cities and experience things she’s only read about. She finds herself with more than a little crush on one of her flat mates, Pilot. Unfortunately, though it seems they’ll get on and sparks are there, Pilot has a girlfriend. There’s some late night conversations and an almost-kiss…but before we know it they are leaving to return home and there’s a definite sense of what might have been.

It was at this point that things became less convincing. Shifting to six years later for part two, we see Shane has returned home and is about to further her career in medicine. She still dislikes it, realises she doesn’t particularly like her boyfriend who has recently proposed…and feels there’s still some unresolved issues with regard to the boy she crushed on all those years ago.

Unlike many people who might put that down to timing and move on, Shane finds her ex-friend/crush and decides to tell him how she feels. Before we know it, thanks to what we’re meant to believe is a fairy godmother-type character who pops up regularly at key moments in Shane’s life, the pair of them have travelled back in time. They get the chance to redo their time in London, but better.

The second part was, in many ways, more credible than the first in spite of the time-travel premise. It would have been all too easy for the romance to be the driving force here, but this was just a part of the story. Pilot and Shane, inevitably, balk at sharing their feelings on this matter, then decide to take the plunge…but even this time it doesn’t quite go to plan. Shane has a bit of a wake-up call (and I think this had potential) and realises she, ultimately, has to be happy with her decisions before she can expect to be happy with anyone else. This didn’t get pushed as it could have done, and we still get the happy ending. That doesn’t make it bad, but it was safe. I also found myself increasingly irritated by the never-ending stream of references to books, films and music that we are expected to see as helping present this character. She was more engaging when we actually dealt with her, and not the construct she seemed desperate to present to others.