From one of the most followed booktubers today, comes Again, but Better, a story about second chances, discovering yourself, and being brave enough to try again.
Shane has been doing college all wrong. Pre-med, stellar grades, and happy parents…sounds ideal but Shane's made zero friends, goes home every weekend, and romance…what’s that?
Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time's a ticking, and she needs a change there's nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She's going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure!
Easier said than done. She is soon faced with the complicated realities of living outside her bubble, and when self-doubt sneaks in, her new life starts to fall apart.
Shane comes to find that, with the right amount of courage and determination one can conquer anything. Throw in some fate and a touch of magic - the possibilities are endless.
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Take a Chance
I'm leaving the country because I have no friends.
That's what it comes down to. People can continue along most paths, however unpleasant, if they have at least one good friend with them. Not having one has forced me to consider my path-changing options. Now, I'm thousands of miles over the Atlantic in a giant hollowed-out pen with wings, on my way to a study abroad program that's irrelevant to my major.
My parents don't know about the irrelevant part. Every time I think about it, my hands start shaking.
I grip the armrest nearest to the window. No second-guessing. I fold forward, trying not to bang my head on the seat in front to me, and extract the pen and notebook from my book bag on the floor — writing usually helps. I find it cathartic to pour out my soul via pen and paper. These days all my notebooks are Horcruxes, so I've started titling them accordingly; Horcrux notebooks one through eight are piled up in a Rubbermaid under my bed back in New York.
This new notebook makes a satisfying noise as I pull back the cover and flip it around to view my first entry.
COLLEGE, TAKE TWO: STUDY ABROAD GOALS
1) Kick ass at internship — turn it into a paid summer job.
2) Make friends you like to hang out with and who like to hang out with you.
I'm going to make friends. I am. I'm going to talk to people I don't know like I already know them — that's the secret. I've watched my cousin Leo do it in school for years, and I'm ready. These friendless times call for extreme outgoing measures.
I click the pen and scribble down four more goals.
3) Kiss a boy you like. Stop kiss-blocking self.
4) Have adventures in the city you're in. You've done nothing in New York City during the 2.5 years you've been there, you idiot.
5) Maybe try getting a little bit drunk. Don't black out or anything, but find out what it's like in a controlled, self-aware environment. You're legally allowed to in the UK!
6) Start your great American novel. You've spent an absurd amount of time trying to think of the perfect first sentence. Stop it. Just write.
I startle, my arm flying up instinctively to cover the page. The woman next to me — a slim forty-something-year-old with a pile of bright red hair on her head — eyes me impatiently.
"What?" I sputter.
"How in the world does one kiss-block themselves?" she asks in an irritated British voice.
My eyes bulge. "I —"
"How old are you?" she presses.
I'm silent for a beat before mumbling, "Twenty."
The left side of this woman's lip curls up in alarm. "Are you saying you're twenty years old and you've never kissed anyone?"
Leave it to me to get heckled by a stranger on a plane. I look away pointedly, unwilling to confirm or deny. This is never worth discussing. People can't handle it. They get condescending, like you've suddenly morphed back into a ten-year-old. General PSA: Kissing people doesn't make you better than non-kissed people. Sit down. And self-kiss- blocking is a real thing. I've experienced it. I've gotten close a few times, with random dancing frat dudes at parties my roommates dragged me to. When the time came, I turned away out of pure terror. I believe my exact thoughts were: Demon, demon! Too close to my face!
"How interesting. Am I to assume you're friendless as well?" Red- haired woman brings me back to the plane.
I shake my head in disbelief, glancing down at my list, and back up at her. "Oh my god."
"Why don't you have friends?" She cocks her head to the side.
I exhale a flustered breath. "I ... I have friends at home, just not at college, because I did it wrong."
Not a lie. They're just not close friends. More like acquaintances I met through Leo back before puberty. Nowadays, Leo and I don't talk anymore, so, by proxy, Leo's friends and I don't talk either.
Did Leo ever even count as a real friend? Do cousins count as friends?
"I didn't know you could do college wrong." The woman rolls her eyes.
I hold back a scoff, thinking back to the list I jotted down in Horcrux Eight last month:
HOW TO DO COLLEGE WRONG:
1) Don't make friends outside your dorm room.
2) Don't get involved in extracurriculars you might enjoy.
3) Don't talk to people in your classes.
4) Stay in bingeing every show the internet has to offer.
5) Pick a super-hard major to please your parents.
"Well, you can." I add in calmer tone, "I'm going to London to fix it."
"London's going to give you friends?" She sounds way too amused.
"It's a fresh start!" My voice tightens.
She raises an eyebrow. I bob my chin up and down, more for myself than the lady, before turning back toward the window.
"Well, it's a doable list. I believe in you," she finishes.
Her unexpected encouragement strikes a chord in my chest. I glare out into the darkness with glassy eyes. Fear roils around in my stomach, making me all twitchy and uncomfortable.
When I first saw the Literature and Creative Writing program on the YU London study abroad site, my heart left my body, got in a plane, and scribbled out YES in giant, building-sized letters across the sky. The idea of leaving my current life behind: bio, chemistry, physics, the MCATs, even my family, and starting over with a clean slate — it was everything.
Last week, it was all that got me through vacation. This past Sunday, the fam and I were in Florida, fresh outta church (to quote my father: Just because we're on vacation doesn't mean we skimp on church — we're good Catholics), Dad caught me alone, reading in a little cove away from the hubbub of everyone else. To my horror, he snatched the book out of my hands. "What are you doing? Get in the water! Talk to us! Spend time with your cousins!"
I scurried over to sit on the edge of the pool where the cousins were socializing. My ten cousins are boys ranging from age eleven to nineteen. Joining them by the pool at any given time means subjecting oneself to verbal assault.
Maybe verbal assault is dramatic; more like volunteering as a human joke target.
It wasn't always like this, especially with the oldest, Leo. But it's like this now. They'll start talking about drinking: Shane, do you even go to parties? Why the fuck do you come home every other weekend? Roaring laughter. Antisocial! They start talking about relationships: Shane, do you ever talk to people other than your parents? Why don't you ever have a boyfriend? Sometimes I try to chuckle along with them. I'll treat them to endless eye rolls, cheeks burning, lips sealed in a tight line. But I keep quiet because I'm outnumbered. Super-fun times.
I close my new notebook. I take a second to admire the See You in Another Life word art I doodled across the front of it earlier while I was waiting to board, before shoving it back into my book bag. I pop the buds dangling around my neck back into my ears and set the Beatles to play on my iPod. My parents have been playing them for as long as I can remember, and their songs have become sort of a default calming mechanism. Four hours left. Four hours till new first impressions. New classes. New surroundings. New country. Try to find sleep, Shane.CHAPTER 2
Make a Change
I didn't find sleep, but I did find the taxi line outside the airport, so here's to that. Now, London hurtles by my window as we barrel down the wrong side of the road en route to my new home, the Karlston.
According to the So You're Going to Study Abroad pamphlet I reread five hundred times: Once off the plane, I was to collect my bag from baggage claim, find a buddy from my flight who's also headed to the Karlston, and share a taxi with them. Unfortunately, I'm allergic to finding a buddy. I've failed this task on countless occasions. At the baggage carousel, I determinedly positioned myself close to a college-age girl in a blue peacoat — and then stood there for five minutes trying to stifle the current of self-doubt cycling through me as I mentally rehearsed what I would say. Some variation of: Hi! Are you headed to the Karlston? Hi! I'm headed to the Karlston. Hi! Me, you, Karlston? Before I worked up the nerve to open my mouth, her suitcase came out onto the conveyor belt. I watched as she tracked it around the carousel with her eyes. And I watched in silence as she pulled it off and wandered away.
So, I'm alone in this taxi with no one to split the fifty-pound fee. I'm going to count that as my outgoing dress rehearsal. Once I get to the Karlston, I'm talking to new people. I'm starting conversations.
Outside the window, we're passing store after store that I've never heard of. Different. Already everything's so different, and I can't help but feel the distance. I'm 3,450 miles away from everyone I know.
Yesterday, my parents watched with solemn expressions as I walked away from them toward airport security. It made me feel like I was going away to war or something.
Out of habit, I reach into my bag and grab my cell to check for messages. It's dead. I let it fall back in. It was doomed to become a useless brick while in England anyway. My LG Voyager isn't new enough to support international calling. According to So You're Going to Study Abroad, I'm to buy a cheap plastic one like the fugitives do on TV.
* * *
The taxi rolls to a stop on a street lined on both sides with pretty, white, sophisticated-looking buildings with columns. Fancy. I drag my bags up four steps and into the one labeled THE KARLSTON.
Inside is a quaint lobby with burgundy carpeting. To the left is a typical curved lobby-style desk, and to the right is a little table with two people sitting behind it: a pale blond woman in her thirties and a balding black man in his fifties. They introduce themselves as the London program heads, Agatha and William. Agatha gives me my apartment keys. I'm in Flat Three, Room C. William directs me to a door on the left, past the desk, so that's what I waddle toward with my luggage.
I pull open said door to find stairs. I'm at the top of a carpeted stairway leading into the basement. Am I going to live in the basement? I heave in a breath.
This is fine. You're doing it. College, take two. Don't blow it.
I have three bags: a book bag, a carry-on, and a giant black suitcase. I secure the book bag high on my shoulder, grasp the carry-on in my front hand, and prepare to drag the giant suitcase behind me.
I take a single step down before something snags behind me. I fly forward.
"Shit!" I sacrifice the carry-on and lunge for the handrail, holding on for dear life as my bag continues on without me. It comes to a thundering stop at the bottom of the twenty or so steps. After a moment, I push against the wooden beam, back into an upright position.
I turn to see my puffy winter jacket snagged on rail at the top of the staircase. Way to almost die before you've even made it to the room. Leo's voice echoes in my head: Can you do anything without causing a scene?
With a huff, I pry myself free and slowly thump the rest of the way down with my remaining luggage. I sidestep the fallen carry-on and assess the area at the foot of the stairs. There's a hallway to my right, to my left, and behind me, parallel to the staircase.
"Are you okay?" a voice calls from above. I spin to find a curvy girl with dark skin and bright hazel-brown eyes standing in a bold green peacoat at the top of the landing.
Why does everyone have fashionable coats? Are peacoats a thing? She's wearing a white beret over her shoulder-length dark hair that flips out at the ends like a girl from the sixties. She looks so put together and sophisticated, and not at all like she just got off a plane.
I feel the sleep deprivation as I struggle for a moment to answer her. "Um, yeah, I'm fine."
Beret Girl starts down the staircase with her giant red piece of luggage.
"I just ... I tripped, and my carry-on fell ..." I mumble. Don't mumble.
"I thought maybe you had fallen. The noises were epic!"
My cheeks get hot. I clear my throat. "Cool ... um, I'm fine, though. No worries!" I pick the carry-on up off the floor and start down the hallway parallel to the staircase.
"Where are you headed?" the girl asks, now dismounting from the last step. I turn around again.
"I'm in Flat Three, Room C. I'm taking a wild guess that it's this way, maybe?"
"Oh my goodness, no way, me too!" She shoots me a giant grin. I feel my own smile perk up.
At the end of the hall, we find ourselves between two light wooden doors: 3B is to our left and 3C is to our right.
I twist my key in the 3C lock. With a bit of pressure, it swings open, thumping lightly against the wall. My eyes dart around, surveying the space. We're on the long wall of a rectangular room with gray carpeting. There are three windowless walls, two of which have bunk beds pushed up against them. There's a bunk bed directly across from where I'm standing and another to the left of the doorway. Four portable, light brown, cupboard-like closets have been smooshed against the walls wherever space allows. The third wall is outfitted with a full-length mirror and a door to the bathroom. The fourth wall is a window. Well, it's not a full-on glass wall. It's about 40 percent wall and 60 percent giant window. The blinds are currently closed and a kitchen-sized table sits in front of it. We drag our things in and let the door click shut behind us.
"I love it," Beret Girl exclaims, forgetting her bags by the door and moving past me toward the lower bunk. "My name's on this one!" She holds up a blue folder she swiped off the bed.
I move my bags against the wall and walk over to look at the folder on the other bottom bunk. Not me. I hop up on the ladder to look at the folder on the top bunk. No name up here. I must be the bed above Beret Girl. Exchange names, Shane.
I turn from my perch on the ladder of the second bunk. "Hey, I'm Shane, by the way!"
The girl looks up from the floor where she's already unloading clothes into one of the two giant drawers under the first bunk. "I'm Babe!"
"Babe like the pig in that movie with the talking farm animals?"
Babe looks up, still smiling. "I love that pig."
I jump off the second bunk and climb to the top of the first. This blue folder has a little name tag that reads: SHANE PRIMAVERI. The bed's already made up with sheets and a plain black comforter. Enticing. Too bad it's only 11:00 a.m.
I hop off the ladder. I guess I should unpack. I grab my book bag from the floor and fish out my laptop, setting it up on the table near the window.
"Babe?" I ask hesitantly. My MacBook emits a whoosh as it powers up.
"Yeah?" She glances up from her suitcase.
"Do you mind if I put some music on in the background while we unpack, the Beatles or something?"
"Oh my goodness, I love the Beatles. Yes, please!" she gushes, slapping her hands against her lap for emphasis.
"Awesome." I turn back to my computer, pulling up iTunes. "A Hard Day's Night" seeps from my computer speakers. I close my eyes for a second. I'm in England! I do a little chassé-spin dance step toward my suitcase.
* * *
I'm working on the last bits of my closet. Roommate #3 has arrived, and she's intimidatingly tall. We're thinking there is no Roommate #4 because that bed's lacking a blue folder. The empty bunk's about to become a storage area for our many pieces of luggage. Babe's finished unpacking. She's lounging with her laptop. The wall near her bed is now decorated with various Mickey Mouse–related snippets and pictures, including a magazine cut out of the phrase THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH written in the flouncy Disney font.
Roommate #3, Sahra — pronounced Say-ruh — is still unpacking. She has these big dark eyes and tanned skin. Every time she looks over at Babe and me, her straight, shoulder-length, dark brown locks swish out around her face like she's in a hair commercial. I'm already kind of jealous of her effortlessly cool style. She's currently sporting fashion-y heeled booties with gray skinny jeans and a stylish, oversize cream sweater.
Sahra is prelaw, and hoping to Skype her boyfriend before bed later. There's already a picture of the two of them tacked up on her wall. After initial introductions and a brief conversation, the three of us fell into a comfortable silence as we emptied our belongings into the provided cupboards.
I hang my last sweater in my now-crowded closet and close the door. We're expected to be upstairs for orientation at 12:30, which is in approximately thirty minutes. I change into a cute white shirt and black jeans, walk through a perfume mist, brush my teeth, revitalize my curly, wave-ridden blond hair, and spruce up the makeup I did yesterday morning, East Coast time. I'm too tired to calculate how many hours ago that was. I pull the thick rubber bracelet I got for Christmas from my toiletry bag and tug it onto my wrist. I've worn it everywhere since, and I felt a little naked without it on the plane. It's black with neon-green numbers (4 8 15 16 23 42) etched into it. It's a Lost thing. Lost is the best TV show of all time. Carrying a physical piece of it on my wrist gives me a weird thrill. I want people in the world to ask me about it, so I can spread the Lost love to all the unknowing noobs. I took it off for the flight because it felt taboo to wear it up in the air, since the whole show revolves around a plane crash.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Again, But Better"
Copyright © 2019 Christine Riccio.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1: 2011,
1. Take a Chance,
2. Make a Change,
3. Breathe, Just Breathe,
4. I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here,
5. Open Your Eyes and See,
6. Nothing's Standing in My Way,
7. Never Mind,
8. I Want to Be the Rainstorm, Not the House of Cards,
9. Maybe We Can See the World Together,
10. Rome Ma-Ma,
11. What Comes Next?,
12. Has He Heard?,
13. Here Goes Nothing,
16. A Million Little Shining Stars,
17. Such a Breakable Thread,
18. I Can Learn to Do It,
21. Ticking Away,
22. I Must Dream of the Things I Am Seeking,
23. Thunderbolt and Lightning,
24. Broken Dreams,
25. One Last Time,
26. Bye Bye Bye,
Part 2: 2017,
27. What Page Are You On?,
28. More Than You Bargained For,
2. Somebody Catch My Breath,
3. I Thought Time Was an Hourglass Glued to the Table,
4. I'm the First in Line,
5. Reaching in the Dark,
6. What a Lovely Night,
7. There's a Glow Off the Pavement,
8. Where Do We Go From Here?,
9. Might as Well Embrace It,
10. The Green Light, I Want It,
11. Come Together,
12. The Rush at the Beginning,
14. Don't Stop Me Now,
15. Don't, Don't Know What It Is,
16. I'm a Goner,
18. Break Your Walls,
19. Heavy as the Setting Sun,
20. Waves Come After Midnight,
21. Ford Every Stream,
22. Going for the Knockout,
23. I Have Confidence in Me,
24. Through Accepting Limits,
25. Twice as Hard, Half as Liked,
26. The Fear of Falling Apart,
27. Marching On,
About the Author,