“I’m leaving the country because I have no friends.”
This is the opening line to one of my favorite books, “Again, But Better” by Christine Riccio. The second I read that line, I knew that this story was going to change my life (as cheesy as that may sound). I first read it shortly after graduating high school. Riccio has a big following on YouTube and documented her writing process in video diaries. One of my best friends was a huge fan, and when the book finally came out, she would not stop talking about it. She even drove down to Chicago to meet Riccio and have her sign her copy of the book. This same friend was gracious enough to let me borrow such a prized possession, and immediately after finishing it, I drove to three different Target locations to get my own copy.
“Again, But Better” follows Shane, a 20-something student who impulsively signs up for a study abroad program in London after realizing that she has “done college all wrong.” The move is completely out of her comfort zone, but she meets new friends (and a very attractive housemate), travels all around Europe and gets a fancy internship. The only problem is, the semester is part of a creative writing program, and Shane’s parents want her to go into the medical field instead. Throw in a bit of magic and Taylor Swift references, and you have my ideal story (and my entire personality) summed up in less than 400 pages.
Since I bought my own copy, I’ve reread the book several times. While some of the smaller details have gradually become cheesier as I’ve grown older, the overall story has been a source of personal comfort. The romance has me grinning like an idiot every time, and the travel scenes reminded me of my own trip to Paris after graduation — if I ever study abroad, it will be solely because of this book. My most recent reread was this past May, and this time around something just clicked.
I see myself in Shane in many different ways. For one, we share similar interests and dreams. We are also both naturally anxious people. Up until the start of the novel, Shane spent all her time reading alone in her dorm room and went home for the weekend every chance she got; I have to admit my freshman year experience was a little too similar. But just like Shane took matters into her own hands and traveled abroad, I transferred colleges. This year, I enrolled at the University of Michigan, the place I wanted to be all along. After a year of physical isolation — and two years of feeling left behind for not having the typical “college experience” — I began to feel like I was doing something right.
I was also finally honest with myself about wanting to be an author. It’s no known secret that careers in the arts make it hard to support yourself financially. Despite how much I loved to write, the idea of subjecting myself to such a high, constant level of stress scared me more. But no other potential career excites me nearly as much.
Shane’s love for writing was a source of family conflict in “Again But Better.” Her parents disapproved of the idea, for many of the same reasons that I couldn’t fully commit to it. My parents have always been supportive of me in any path I would choose to take, so I didn’t have to resort to fabricating an entire pre-med program in order to go to London for a semester. Instead, the source of conflict lies within myself. But once I was able to admit out loud that I was at least willing to give it a try, it was suddenly worth it. Since starting at the University, I’ve switched my major and joined The Daily, where I am surrounded by people who love to write as much as I do.
If anyone reading this article relates to feeling lost and afraid like I was, I have two pieces of advice that I hope do not come off as too cliché. The first is to go after your passion. It may be difficult at first, but it has the potential to pay off in the long run — either in success, or in the experiences and friends you gain along the way. You won’t know unless you try. The second, of course, is to read this book (though I would recommend it in any circumstance).
Riccio captures everything I felt in her author’s note, before the book even begins: “I so badly wanted to read a coming-of-age story about someone who was 20 — someone who was still finding themselves and struggling with becoming an adult even after they hit the double-decade mark. I needed to know there was at least one other 20-plus person out there feeling as alone and lost as I was. This is for all the teens/young adults/adults who feel like they’ve been left behind. You’re not behind. You have time to find yourself and love and adventure. It’s all out there, and when you’re ready to push yourself out of your comfort zone and look for it, you’ll find it.”
I think I’m finally finding it.
Daily Arts Writer Hannah Carapellotti can be reached at email@example.com.