Publisher: Wednesday Books Genre: Young Adult, Coming of Age Pages: 448 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 4/5 stars
If you’re looking for an extraordinarily unique, dark twist on a classic story, look no further than Christine Riccio’s Better Together. Jamie and Siri are sisters separated at a young age and completely devoid of contact for over a decade due to their parents’ nasty divorce.
In a twist of luck (or fate) the two sisters are reunited at the same “rediscover yourself” retreat and hatch a devious plan: the two will switch places and confront their respective parents.
However, not everything goes as planned, and it’s going to take a lot more than switching places to understand each other, find themselves, and ultimately face the complexities of family.
It has been almost a year since my very first post with The Spellbinding Shelf where I discussed one of my favorite young adult novels, Again but Better by Christine Riccio. Now, coming full circle, I decided to review her newly released second novel, Better Together. While very witty, I have to admit that initially I was not completely sold on the plot—mostly because it wasn’t my usual type of young adult novel. The whimsical magic reminiscent of The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday are classically engaging, but I was not as enthused with those themes. Perhaps due to my hesitancy, I ended up being disengaged, and the combination of short and rather uneventful chapters left me searching for more.
Despite some of these shortcomings, I was pleasantly surprised with Riccio’s capability to take a traditionally lighthearted storyline and investigate the twisted, dark, and traumatizing difficulties of divorce, dysfunctional families, and the impact of parents’ choices on their children. Indeed, there were moments in the book where, while I was craving more action, I couldn’t ignore the insight and attention to how both Jamie and Siri processed their emotional baggage. Riccio does an amazing job detailing the struggles of both characters who have completely different personalities and means of handling their past to move towards their future. There were multiple times in which I had to underline prominent messages or found myself laughing at the page as Riccio nicely combined comedy, romance, and sardonic tones with the seriousness of her overall topic.
Most importantly, Better Together was primarily written during the pandemic—a heaviness that is translated in its pages as the reader slowly feels the suffocation and eventual release of tension most everyone has felt over the past year. In this manner, I appreciated Better Together not only because of its mix of tragedy and comedy, but also its overall feeling of angst and the eventual, much needed, feeling of relief.
Summer is just around the corner and, for me, there is nothing better than lying in a hammock with a good book. While it is arguable that most any book will work in this scenario, some books just scream “summer” more than others. After some thought, I have compiled a list of books that I think are perfect for diving into summer.
The Summer I Turned Pretty—Jenny Han. Starting off the list is a novel from the author of the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series. It follows the story of Belly, who looks forward to the summer all year. Each year, her family spends the season in the small town of Cousins where they join the Fishers, whose sons Jeremiah and Conrad have grown up with Belly. It’s a story of first love, heartbreak, and the summer sun. I used to read this book every year—it’s the perfect YA summer love story. If you’re looking to get into the summer mood, then I highly recommend giving this novel a chance. If you like it, it’s part of a three book series!
Red White & Royal Blue—Casey McQuiston. It wouldn’t be a summer reads list without this fan favorite. This novel tells the story of Alex Claremont-Diaz, whose mom is the President of the United States. When the tabloids get a hold of a physical altercation between him and the Prince of Wales, a variety of problems arise. In the efforts between the two countries to mend the relationship comes a heart-warming and unlikely love story. There’s a reason this novel is so popular, and as summer rolls around I find myself gravitating towards it again.
It Had to Be You—Georgia Clark. This is a newer release—it came out about two weeks ago—but I have a feeling it is going to be the novel of the summer. Told in a style similar to Love Actually, this novel tells the story of Liv Goldenhorn, who is not only dealing with the death of her husband, but also the fact that he left half of their business to his mistress, Savannah. For obvious reasons, Liv isn’t happy about this, and when Savannah comes to work with her, they don’t exactly mesh right away. However, long nights and deep conversations have a way of revealing hidden depths about people, and both Savannah and Liv find that not everything is what meets the eye. It’s a witty, heartwarming story that perfectly captures that summer feeling.
The Girl from Widow Hills—Megan Miranda. I read this novel at the beginning of last summer and as I was thinking of novels for this post that were less romance-y but still summer-y, and this one immediately popped into my head. This novel follows Arden Maynor, who now goes by Olivia Meyer, 20 years after she was found in a storm drain in the small town of Widow Hills. She has spent her life trying to distance herself from her past, but it always has a way of catching up. This novel is shocking and thrilling while still maintaining that summer feeling. If summer romances aren’t as much your thing, I highly recommend checking this novel out.