Saturday, February 11, 2023

Again, but Better, by Christine Riccio

Shane is stuck in a life that she cannot stand. She majors in premed solely because her parents insist upon it and she struggles to make friends because she is shy.  And a boyfriend?  Forget about it.  When the opportunity arises for her to study abroad in London, she jumps on it.  A new place.  A chance to restart and be the person she wants to be.  Have friends.  Study creative writing (because writing is what she truly loves).  Because her parents would never approve of her studying anything other than medicine, she lies to them and claims to be continuing her premed program.

Once there, she does manage to come a little out of her shell and make friends with her flat mates.  And she falls head over heels for a boy named Pilot.  He sends encouraging signals but turns out to have a girlfriend already.  And after a few close encounters, he becomes cold and distant.  Eventually, her parents find out about the deception and are furious at her, forcing her to abandon the dream of writing.  By the end of the semester, nothing has worked out as Shane had hoped and she returns to the States in shame and disappointment.

Flash forward six years when Shane is ostensibly a successful doctor, but still torn apart by the unfinished business in London.  She finds herself presented with the opportunity to go back in time and re-do the whole thing.  Given how horrible it was, is this something she would really wish upon herself?  But what if, armed with the knowledge of when she made mistakes and six years to consider better choices, she could do it right?  Would it make any difference?

A little like Groundhog Day but more similar to Before Sunset, this charming story of what you might accomplish with a do-over is a crowd pleaser.  First of all, it has the adventure of impulsive youth set loose on Europe, which is always good makings for a beach read.  But when we shift to the second half,  the book shifts tone significantly and there's some wonderful opportunity for reflection on how we change as we grow up.  It's helpful to pay close attention to the first half of the book as much of it is referenced in the second half, and it is apparent that the initial run through was full of misperceptions.  So, even though you are running through much of the same story a second time, it's really entirely new.  The book's clever, but it is also no small feat to engineer a book that well.  I did think that the end comes on a bit too fast and loose ends get wrapped up entirely too neatly in a brief epilogue, but I enjoyed the book.

No comments: