YA book review: Begin Again by Emma Lord
thank you to Wednesday Books for providing me with an ARC of this book for review purposes. All thoughts are my own and are not impacted by being gifted the book.
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Overview: Andie Rose is finally walking in her mother's footsteps transferring to Blue Ridge State halfway through freshman year. Her mom is a legend at the university, and after she passed, it felt like one of the few connections Andie still has left with her. But transitioning to Blue Ridge isn't without complications from blips in gathering ribbons to join a secret society to failing a stats exam to issues with her boyfriend, Andie is starting to doubt if her long held fantasy is all she built it up to be. Still, there's an epic roommate, an RA she's trying to deny sparks for, and an awesome student tutor to keep her buoyed through the tumultuous times. Overall: 4.5
Characters: 5 I love everyone in this book. Andie is optimistic and sweet but also gets worn down by everything that college throws at her pretty easily. She has drive and determination, but she's also too willing to sacrifice herself and her happiness for others. She just exudes good person vibes in the least annoying way possible, and it's amazing to see her journey of learning that sometimes putting yourself first is the most important thing.
Then there's her family. After her mom passed when she was a kid, her two grandmas moved in to help raise her. There are so many cute scenes showing how her unconventional family has been so supportive and helpful, even in the face of a tragedy. Andie's dad is also an important part of the story, even thought they start the book barely speaking to each other. This storyline is handled so well as Andie and her dad start at an impasse of built up negative feelings and really work in a natural and honest way to resolve the hurt in a healthy way. I feel like we don't get enough parent-child storylines like this, and I really connected to it.
Finally, there's the friends in Andie's life, most of whom she meets at Blue Ridge. But before we get to them, I feel like her awful boyfriend, Connor, deserves a shout out. You can tell from the start that he sucks, but Andie's journey with moving on from that part of her childhood also feels very organic and realistic, even though we know from the start that we shouldn't trust or like Connor.
Then there's her friends that she makes along the way – Milo, Shay, and Valeria. Shay is her bookstagram famous roommate who has a super aesthetic half to the room and more books than you could imagine. Shay is supportive and can be tons of fun. Milo is the floor's RA, and it's clear from Andie's first meeting with him that there's undeniable chemistry despite his cynical and sarcastic approach to life and love. Finally, there's Val who meets Andie when Andie needs a stats tutor. She ends up blending into the friend group and having sparks with one of the friends. Everyone is so lovely and fully realized, having plots and journeys of their own that are equally weighted to Andie's.
Plot: 5 This is one of the most intricately plotted contemporary books I've read in a while. There are definitely moments were you can see the outline working and scenes that are left as tells for what will happen later in the book. It means that by the end, all of the story threads perfectly stack together and snap into place to create a super satisfying ending where everything get tied together in a way you can't help smiling at. Andie starts the book with so much to figure out, and there's answers to every quest she begins (and yes, even though this is a contemporary novel, there is basically a quest). Also, Andie and Milo's slow burn love story is the first in a long time that's made me want to be in love like that.
Writing: 4 College YA is and has always been my soft spot, and this gave me the same joy and hope for my college experience (in admittedly a more PG way) as The Sex Lives of College Girls. Both the show and the book have such a comforting and hilarious feeling in their found family narratives and promise of community. Sadly, my college experience hasn't lead me to an idealized friend group, but I love seeing it in media. The book does a great job capturing the trials and tribulations of that time of life from all angles. It feels very honest to the experience, and it was comforting to read as someone in the middle of her college experience but would also be a great primer for a high schooler looking ahead. It's been a while since I've read YA, and Begin Again was a good reminder of why I love these stories. Also, why do I enjoy romance so much more when it's in YA stories? Probably because I'm 19.
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