Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Multigenre
You never know who you might meet online, but if you’re following a fandom, they can’t be too bad, right? Well, that’s the conclusion blogger Finn and fanfic author Gena come to. They bond over their favorite TV show, a crime drama called Up Below. As they become closer, their lives intertwine in unexpected ways, the forces between them blossoming into more than either expected. But things start to crumble at the edges, and neither young woman can know whether the friendship that they have built will be strong enough to weather the storm of controversy and tragedy that follows in its wake.
Oh man. I desperately wanted to love this book. I’m a fangirl for several franchises, I’ve written fanfics (hey it’s good writing practice!), and I lovelovelove non-traditional story formats like this one. Gena/Finn is told in emails, texts, IMs, and similar formats. It sounds like it would be right up my alley.
So, so wrong.
Where to begin? Well, I always like to start with something nice, so I can say the title is a cute nod to fanfiction. When writers are posting their stories, they use a / to designate particular pairings. Subtle and sweet and an excellent choice.
Now for the not-so-good. First off, the characters were confusing. It makes sense why they might be—each main character had a real life name and online pseudonym or three. For instance, Gena is short for Genevieve, AKA Genny AKA Eve AKA Evie AKA EvenIf. Throughout the story she’s referred to by all of these. The same goes for Finn (real name Stephanie AKA Finnegan). But then the subcast has names and handles and there are actors and characters who are referred to as both names interchangeably, and…
Well you can see where it might get confusing.
But this book complicates matters by having very little voice development. All the characters sort of sound the same, except perhaps Gena’s poetry. There are definitely times when I had to look back several pages to see who was talking.
The other problem was that I just didn’t care much about the characters, which is unusual for me in a novel with LGBT themes. I thought Gena was snotty and whiny, and I found Finn just bland. The subcast wasn’t much better. They didn’t stand out. I didn’t even really care when the twist happened two-thirds of the way in (more on that later).
There’s plenty to drag me from suspension of disbelief, too. The entire thing felt riddled with coincidences and more Mary Sue moments than an actual fanfic. For example, Gena is supposed to be this amazing, beloved fanfic writer, but her stories were barely mediocre. Finn lived in a two-bedroom apartment in a California city that she and her boyfriend could afford on his single salary. One character, though poor, could just drop things on a whim for international travel. Little things like that just didn’t make sense, and each time something like that would happen, I’d get yanked out of the story.
Even the conflicts weren’t terribly engaging. I half-expected it to end with the entire story having been crafted in one character’s head, fueled by a few friendly conversations blown completely out of proportion (and I would’ve been perfectly fine with that). However, I wasn’t so lucky. Instead, I faced a section whining about opposite pairings in fandoms, a section whining about opportunities and missed chances, and a section whining about the repercussions of one’s choices. The final third of the book was vaguely more interesting, but after awhile it became as tedious as the rest.
The one redeeming quality of the book was the twist. Two-thirds of the way through came a Big Event that legit made me gasp. Like, I had to actually step away from the book for a second to process. It wasn’t that I cared about the cast or the characters involved so much as an empathic “What if this happened to me?” moment. It was really well done. Unexpected. And it injected some much-needed direction and drama into the story.
Unfortunately, about 30 pages after the Big Event I was reading just to finish.
Side Note: The story gets a pass on mechanics because of the formatting. Typically in IMs and texts, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling is ignored for speeding condensing a message; as the book was written in these formats, I didn’t count errors in them against the grade. The prose passages, however do not get this pass.
Gena/Finn had a lot of promise, but it’s a disappointing read overall.
- Older teens with good judgement
- Fans of non-traditional storytelling
- People who are patient enough to wait for 30 awesome pages most of the way through the book
- Alcohol Use: references to underage drinking
- Death: some death and references to death
- Deceit: characters trick and cheat on each other
- Lying: characters lie to one another
- Man-Made Disaster: frequent references to fires and other catastrophes
- Mental illness: one of the main characters has schizophrenic episodes and may or may not be responsible for some of the tragic events that occur
- Sex: nothing explicit, but it’s referenced
- Swearing: frequent use of inappropriate language
- Growing Up
- Mental Health
- Overcoming Adversity
- Romantic Love
|Exploration of Conflict||2|
|Consideration of Themes||1|
|Suspension of Disbelief||0|
|Imagery and Description||1|
|Rhythm and Pace of Book||0|
|Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation)||N/A|