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.
– from Goodreads
I usually try to review without spoilers, but I’m not sure how to talk about what bothered me about this book without giving at least some spoilers, so be warned.
I had high hopes in this book – first of all it’s epistolary and you know I love me some epistolary books (there may actually be an event related to this on this blog at some point this year, but psssht). It’s also about fandom and people said at least the first half of it was feel good. I usually try not to spoiler myself before reading, but I knew that Gena and Finn wouldn’t end up together, so I didn’t have any wrong expectations about that. On paper, I should have loved this book, but I really didn’t. Let me tell you why.
Okay, so here’s what happened. I didn’t think the first half of the book was feel good. I appreciate that a lot of readers seem to have liked how Gena and Finn met each other and developed feelings for each other, but to be honest it was framed by too much fandom drama for me. I’m not saying it’s not accurate, it just bores me to hell. The last few years, I’ve usually tried to stay so far away from fandom drama that the only time I ever hear about it is when someone reacts to it, and even then I usually hit the back button as fast as I can. I fully appreciate the internet’s ability to give people a voice who might not otherwise be heard and its chance to address current issues, but this is not that. This is petty arguing that could easily be avoided. It’s always the same, mostly insignificant, issues coming up over and over again, and I just could not care less.
There was a lot of that in Gena/Finn though, which is why I wasn’t overjoyed to read about it. I also didn’t care that much about the fandom they were in – it seems to loosely be modelled after Supernatural, and I don’t really know too much about that show other than the basics, so maybe I would have related to it more if I were a fan of the show? (Probably not.) There definitely wasn’t enough about it in the book to make me feel any kind of way about it though, but at the same time I wasn’t yearning for more. I did care about the actual actors in the context of how they were connected to Gena though. I liked that they remembered her and still cared about her.
Okay, now let’s talk Gena and Finn’s relationship, which is really at the center of the book. As I mentioned, I knew they wouldn’t end up together, and I didn’t mind that they didn’t per se. I saw some reviews that felt like the characters did a “180” and I know what they mean even though I don’t really agree. I would have been fine with Finn choosing her fiancé, who seemed like a very decent guy – she had a shared history with him and she’d known Gena for like five minutes. I mean, it didn’t seem like she was terribly in love with him, so she probably should have reflected on what that meant, but I can understand her decision. What really, really pissed me off is how she made Gena feel bad about it when she wanted some distance – I mean seriously? She fought with her boyfriend to the point that they almost broke up and then literally ditched him to visit Gena instead of working on their relationship – talk about giving mixed signals – and then blames Gena for needing time to herself after she’s already unhappy with where she is and doesn’t have anyone else she can really confide in? I mean, yeah, it sucks when you lose a friend, but that’s not the way to treat them (or keep them).
I know Finn also did some really selfless things by the end of the book – she basically spent all her money and more on taking care of Gena, but I really didn’t like her throughout most of the book. She wasn’t being fair to her boyfriend or Gena, but I think what really bothered me about her was that she recognized something was off in her life and didn’t do anything about it. She’s not happy with her career or in her relationship, but she also never strives to get to a better point. Maybe I’m being unfair – she did apply to random jobs all the time, but that seemed almost more halfhearted than her attempts to make sense of her relationships? I know I’m being awfully judgemental here, but I just didn’t click with her.
And, honestly, even taking care of Gena to that extent was a bit strange – I mean it’s nice, but did they ever even make a serious attempt at contacting Gena’s parents? Don’t get me wrong, they sucked, but they (probably) wouldn’t have kept travelling the world if they knew about Gena’s accident? And what about Gena’s other family – they only learned about the accident way after it happened and tried to help, but didn’t even know the full extend of the damage or where to find Gena (I don’t think). I know Finn said she wasn’t comfortable asking for money from them, but I honestly didn’t think that reason was good enough. I appreciate she and Gena had a strong bond, but they’re Gena’s family while she’s known her for a few months or so – they should have felt uncomfortable about how much Finn did – and they probably would have had they ever known about it.
I liked Gena, and I mostly liked how her mental issues were portrayed. I really, really wished that she’d learn to open up to more people instead of putting on a mask with everyone but two people in her life, one of whom she hasn’t even spoken to in a decade. Instead she spiraled into making bad decisions for herself after the whole drama with Finn, and then never really recovered, which was really frickin’ sad. She never seemed to get the care she needed although I’m glad she at least found someone to talk to in group towards the end of the book. The whole thing with her seeing the smoke before the explosion and not reacting to it because she thought she was imagining it again was almost too poetically tragic. In fact that whole accident at set was terribly unnecessary. It felt like that one token episode in Grey’s Anatomy where another random plane crashes. It was literally only there to add some drama and propel the story forwards when it would have been stuck otherwise. It just seemed more like lazy writing than anything.
And then the ending – what even happened there? I think the authors were trying to make a point about there being all kinds of love and relationships and the lack of a need to label them? That’s the most positive interpretation I can come up with, but I just really didn’t feel that? Everything just felt unhealthy and unresolved, and the book mainly just depressed me.
I… am not even sure. My review is basically one long rant, but I liked parts of it and I flew through it. I usually give three cupcakes to books I enjoyed reading, but that weren’t very memorable or special to me. I’m not sure this qualifies though, because there were parts that really annoyed me. I mean I guess life is messy and not everything has to end happy, but… meh. The few elements I liked were how Gena’s mental illness was portrayed, sometimes Gena herself, and some of the poems. Overall, this book wasn’t for me. Two and a half cupcakes it is!