Review: Begin Again by Emma Lord

  • Title: Begin Again
  • Author: Emma Lord
  • Genre: contemporary
  • Intended audience: young adult
  • Format read: eARC
  • Publisher: Wednesday Books
  • Pub date: January 24, 2023
  • Content warnings: mentions of death of a parent, grief, cheating, underage drinking
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

As usual, Andie Rose has a plan: Transfer from community college to the hyper competitive Blue Ridge State, major in psychology, and maintain her lifelong goal of becoming an iconic self-help figure despite the nerves that have recently thrown her for a loop. All it will take is ruthless organization, hard work, and her trademark unrelenting enthusiasm to pull it all together.

But the moment Andie arrives, the rest of her plans go off the rails. Her rocky relationship with her boyfriend Connor only gets more complicated when she discovers he transferred out of Blue Ridge to her community college. Her roommate Shay needs a major, and despite Andie’s impressive track record of being The Fixer, she’s stumped on how to help. And Milo, her coffee-guzzling grump of an R.A. with seafoam green eyes, is somehow disrupting all her ideas about love and relationships one sleep-deprived wisecrack at a time.

But sometimes, when all your plans are in rubble at your feet, you find out what you’re made of. And when Andie starts to find the power of her voice as the anonymous Squire on the school’s legendary pirate radio station–the same one her mom founded, years before she passed away–Andie learns that not all the best laid plans are necessarily the right ones.

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I have been an Emma Lord fan since I first read Tweet Cute back in 2020, so I was incredibly excited when I received an advanced reader copy of Begin Again. Thankfully, it did not disappoint! Begin Again has everything I would expect from an Emma Lord book: exceptional character development, a cute romance, a gut-wrenching family storyline, and, of course, lots of food.

The first year of college is a difficult time for everyone, but Andie is having a tougher time than most. She transferred to Blue Ridge State, her dream school, in the middle of the year. Andie’s mom passed away when she was young, but before her mom was a local radio star, she was legendary on campus as “the Knight”, the host of an underground radio show. Moreover, she was a part of one of Blue Ridge’s legendary secret societies, and Andie will only know which one if she can manage to get into one of them. So on top of her schoolwork and her new job, she is also soon juggling surprise activities to get into a secret society.

I love seeing more YA books set in college. The first year especially is a tumultuous time, and I think lots of young college students will find comfort and assurance in Begin Again. I found Andie’s experience to be extremely relatable, and I loved reading about her journey. That being said, I do have two main issues with how college is portrayed just in terms of fiction vs reality. Within the book, the secret societies are fun clubs and the activities to get into them are fun things like “dance party” and “snowman building competition.” However, in real life secret societies (and other similar things like Greek Life), have a long history of hazing and generally not being safe places. Within the universe of the book it is fine, but I worry about young readers being left with inaccurate impressions. Secondly, please for the love of God do not date your RA. I cannot even begin to tell you what a bad idea it is, not only because it is probably against your school’s rules. Do not do it.

Despite these few quibbles, I really did enjoy the book. The side characters were memorable and well developed, from Shay and Milo to Andie’s Grandmas. I thought Lord did a great job with the dynamics of Andie’s friend group, and I loved reading about their shenanigans.

My favorite part of the book was the progression of Andie’s relationship with her dad. After her mom died, her dad withdrew and Andie was mostly raised by her grandmothers. She has felt very abandoned by him, but at the same time while he has started making an effort to repair their relationship, Andie finds herself avoiding his calls. They both have a lot of work to do, and I liked watching their bonding and the gradual repair of their relationship.

The fun moments in the book are fun and cute, but what really made an impact on me were the more serious moments where Andie has to make some choices and step up to the plate. Watching Andie grow was really the highlight of the book for me. I would recommend Begin Again to Emma Lord fans and anyone interested in a YA college novel.

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