I am not sure what I just read. And I don't mean that in a literal sense, because in that sense, I totally understand what I just read: GENA/FINN is about two young women who are both fangirls of a buddy cop show "Up Below" (reminiscent of Supernatural in terms of the dynamic of the two heroes and the effusiveness of its fanbase). They meet over the message boards and form a friendship that maybe, possibly becomes less-than-platonic. Like I said, I get it.
No, what confused me was the execution of this idea, especially in the last 1/3 of the book, and some of the executive decisions that were made about the girls' sexuality. And, above all, why that ending? Seriously, why that ending? I do not understand.
So...regarding the story-telling itself, I thought it felt very natural and organic (at least until that last 1/3). Normally, I'm not a fan of stories told in mixed media, especially not in emails and instant messaging and blog posts. It feels a little too high school. Like: "Oh my God, we are on AIM! We are such adults for figuring this out! Now let's talk shit and get into shenanigans!" But it worked here. I liked Gena's blog posts and fan fiction excerpts, especially. I really liked her voice, and her enthusiasm. She seemed like somebody who I might want to be friends with, myself. So it was easy to see why Finn, with her problems, wanted to reach out to someone like that and connect.
(Note: some spoilers are going to follow from here on out. Nothing too major, I don't think, although I am going to be discussing the ending, because that was one of my peeves.)
Gena is an eighteen-year-old girl who goes to a prestigious and exclusive boarding school, and is in the process of applying to colleges. Her relationships mostly consist of one-night stands, and when the boys get persistent, she starts being nasty to them for being too clingy. She has some mental health issues, and they come into play later on in the story (that damning last 1/3 I keep referring to, actually). Finn, on the other hand, has already graduated, and applying to (and getting rejected by) menial jobs in order to make ends meet. She lives with her boyfriend of several years, and they're practically engaged (which Finn feels highly ambivalent about). Both girls love "Up Below."
I couldn't decide how I felt about GENA/FINN, so I decided to sleep on it...literally. The last 1/3 bothered me a lot, for many, many reasons. There was a shift in tone, which took the fun, natural feel of the first 2/3 of the book away and left GENA/FINN feeling much darker and angsty. That annoyed me. Gena doesn't narrate as much anymore, suddenly, and when she does, it's "woe is me" misery poetry from the school of Ellen Hopkins. I don't like Ellen Hopkins, or Finn (who pretty much took over the narrative at that point), so that annoyed me. Finn decides that she just can't handle being in love with two people, and compensates for that by lying, hiding things from her fiance and Gena, taking plane flights to stay with Gena in her dorm (which I don't think most colleges would even allow--God knows, mine wouldn't) while she tries to figure out her feelings. Then she strings both of them along, while whining about how "she didn't do anything wrong" and how "she wants both of them, why won't anyone understand"? Oh, people understand. That's called emotional cheating, you bitch, and you're taking advantage of two people because you're too selfish to make a choice.
So yeah, that annoyed me, too.
I was also frustrated by the authors' choice to use Gena's tragedy as a way to get Finn back into Gena's life. While Gena is vulnerable and "woe is me", Finn takes on all of Gena's emotional and medical burdens, even though she is not really financially equipped to handle it. Rather than asking, "What are you doing? We can't afford this? Sorry, babe, but she has to go back to her real family," Charlie, who has been the voice of reason until this point, says absolutely nothing, and, instead, seems to find Gena incredibly endearing despite the fact that she was almost responsible for Finn leaving him. Maybe he thought that if he was mean to Gena, he would have pushed Finn away further, but I can't really imagine anyone reacting the way that he did in this situation, especially given how upset and hurt he was when Finn did other, similarly thoughtless things earlier on.
Finally, I was frustrated by the ending. Despite Gena neglecting her own health and suffering a massive breakdown, and despite Finn doing whatever the hell it was that she wanted, and never mind who got hurt, both girls get a happily-ever-after platonic friendship that ends in your typical heteronormative way, with Finn deciding that she's going to marry her husband after all, and Gena (it is implied) going back to her own strung-along male love interest, who's been there for her all along. This would not have upset me, except that GENA/FINN is being marketed as "LGBT" and I saw the author herself commenting that this is about bisexual women. I love that there are more diverse books out there, but at the same time, it is a little frustrating that a book claiming to be about bisexuality would end in a way that could be interpreted as a redemption arc, with the women realizing that relationships with other women only lead to tragedy, and it's much better to be with men, instead.
I'm not saying that I think that's what the authors were going for here, but it is disappointing nonetheless. I almost wish that Charlie hadn't been included at all (because I really hate cheating in romance novels; it makes it almost impossible for me to root for the couple, unless the person that they're cheating on is a totally emotionally or physically abusive cad), because he was a nice guy and genuinely seemed to care about Finn, and, later on, Gena, and it made me sad to see Finn treat him the way he did. I also really loved Gena, and I was sad to see her character take the plunge that it did towards the end. Why must mental illness always be portrayed as this big, dramatic thing?
Despite all of my reservations, I really did enjoy GENA/FINN and I think the authors did a decent job writing it, especially in the first 2/3 of the book, but it did have a lot of problems and odd plot choices that kept it from getting a higher rating by me. I'll be interested to see what other people think when the book comes out in April.
P.S. This is being marketed as young adult, but it really should be categorized as "new adult" in my opinion, since the ages of the characters are late teens and early twenties, and they deal with a lot of issues that might be difficult for younger teens to fully conceptualize (like rent payments, living on your own, and health insurance).
3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars.