Published by Chronicle on April 5th, 2016
The story follows the unlikely friendship of two young women forged via fan fiction and message boards, and is told entirely in texts, chats, and blog posts.
Gena (short for Genevieve) and Finn (short for Stephanie) have little in common. Book-smart Gena is preparing to leave her posh boarding school for college; down-to-earth Finn is a twenty-something struggling to make ends meet in the big city. Gena’s romantic life is a series of reluctant one-night-stands; Finn is making a go of it with long-term boyfriend Charlie. But they share a passion for Up Below, a buddy cop TV show with a cult fan following. Gena is a darling of the fangirl scene, keeping a popular blog and writing fan fiction. Finn’s online life is a secret, even from Charlie. The pair spark an unlikely online friendship that deepens quickly (so quickly it scares them both), and as their individual “real” lives begin to fall apart, they increasingly seek shelter online, and with each other.
A book about a couple friends who meet online over a shared fandom sounds exactly like the kind of book written for the book blogging community. I have a couple people in my life who are so, so important to me, and I never would have known them without meeting them online. And make no mistake: these are Real Friends. Some of you, I haven’t yet met (but will in a few weeks!) and others, I see at least once a year. But even if there was never the opportunity to meet in “real life” that wouldn’t matter. Online friends are real friends. Gena/Finn is, at its core, a book about this. All the ways to know a person who you’ve never seen face to face. Of course, Gena and Finn do meet face to face, but you see what I mean. You see why I had to read this book the day I got it, six months before publication.
I’ve been building this book up in my head since it was announced under its old title, Your Machine Anatomy. All this time, hyping it to myself and I’m happy to report that it lived up to those expectations – almost entirely, but we’ll get to that later. I devoured this book whole, reading it on my computer screen in one sitting. Which was KILLER on the eyes, but the eARC formatting just made it impossible to read it anywhere else. See, it’s told in a series of texts, emails, private messages, blog posts, chat logs, journal entries. There’s nothing about this book that is narrated traditionally. For the first few pages it was hard to follow, but after I found the book’s rhythm, I flew through it. It’s a very fast, and very immersive read. It’ll be impossible to put down. Once you think it’s time to take a break, something huge will happen and you just have to keep reading. It sinks its claws in like that.
Gena and Finn couldn’t be more different, but that’s the beauty of starting friendships online. Gena is getting ready for college while dealing with shallow friendships, an on-again off-again boyfriend, absent parents, and mental illness. Finn has recently graduated and she’s now looking for a job while talking about marriage with her live-in boyfriend. They probably never would have met had it not been for the fandom they share. But they do, and the world explodes with them. Things get very intense, very quickly. Lines are blurred. It’s a beautiful study in toxic friendships. They are definitely not “just friends” but what are they? When Gena hits rock bottom and the world is pulled out from under them, suddenly Finn is everything. But what about Charlie, Finn’s boyfriend? It all becomes such a tangled, messy web.
I was surprised by the dark places this book was willing to go. It’s not often that YA (is this YA? I feel like it could be NA, but there’s no sex, so who knows.) Anyway, it’s not often that YA addresses that very thin, fragile line between love and hate, and Gena/Finn goes there. It drags the reader down with it, where we become entangled with Gena and Finn and it seems hopeless, it’s suffocating, and you can’t see a way this can end well.
And this brings me to the point where I have to complain about something. The ending is open, and I’m totally fine with that. Things in real life are never as neatly tied up as they are in television episodes or in books. What I do want to complain about the the way the romantic feelings between Gena and Finn were handled. View Spoiler »These girls were “just friends” for a second, and then it quickly developed into much more. So much that Charlie almost left Finn, though they worked it out. These girls cuddled and called each other baby, and Finn said multiple times that she was in love with Gena. And Gena has had multiple crushes on girls and confessed to Zack that this might be the case again. But then it’s never dealt with. Obviously with the explosion, it had to be put on hold for a little while. And I would have been totally fine with them not ending up together if it had just been addressed at all. Something, anything. Instead it was like it never happened.
Another thing: both girls ended up with guys. As a bisexual woman married to a man, I know this happens and it doesn’t negate the bi-ness of anyone when they end up with someone of a different gender. However, if you add in Gena finding a nice boy WITH the fact that the romance was swept under the rug, I’m left with a lot of questions. Mostly: why was the romantic angle included at all if it was just going to be ignored? This would have been a fine book without it. Though it would have been worlds better if Gena and Finn had ended up together. Even BETTER would have been a Gena/Finn/Charlie ot3, but you can’t have everything I guess. « Hide Spoiler
All that being said, I adored this book to pieces. I love the way it was written – both in the crazy epistolary format, and the episodic feel to everything, that kind of mirrored the episodes of Up Below. I loved the fandom aspects. I mean, I’ve never been so heavily involved with fandom, unless you want to count the fandom for YA in general. Which I don’t. But I still have been on the fringes of fandom and all of these aspects of the book rang true. And I absolutely loved the part where the girls went to a con together and didn’t get along with everyone and there was drama. Because, yeah, that’s real life. Gena/Finn also left me very pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of mental illness, and the places the authors were willing to go to take us into Gena’s head. If it wasn’t for the very end, I absolutely would have given this five stars.
Do you love your online friends? Have you ever met someone through fandom? Or are you a contemporary lover who fell for Illuminae? Then I totally recommend you pick this book up as soon as possible.