GENA/FINN by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson.
Genre: YA – Contemporary.
Publisher: Chronicle Books.
Pub. Date: May 17, 2016.
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.
Personal Enjoyment: ●●●●●
Writing Quality: ●●●●○
I’m going to get this out of the way in the first paragraph: this is an #ownvoices story of two bisexual fangirls. As in, the characters are both bisexual, as are both of the authors. Though this is an aspect of the story that I would have liked to work into my review more naturally, I’ve seen a number of reviews that have said this is “not LGBT enough” or, almost worse, reviews that danced around mentioning the nature of Gena and Finn’s relationship. Seeing those early reviews was disheartening, because I was rooting for this book from the moment it was announced and I didn’t want to be “queerbaited.”
Nevertheless, I bought three copies, passed them out to a couple of friends, and optimistically dove in to meet the titular Gena and Finn.
This story is told through a series of emails, IMs, online journal entries, Tumblr posts, handwritten notes and letters and poems, and, of course, fan art and fan fiction. Gena and Finn meet through online fandom; their favorite show, Up Below, is a riff on the CW’s Supernatural. It felt familiar– tylergirls vs. jakegirls, hate-watching season finales, the ongoing main character resurrection epidemic.
However, the nontraditional formatting makes for a super-short story, and at 287 pages it was no chunker to begin with. My main issue with this book was that it needed another 100 pages or so to flesh out the fandom aspect– it would have been so nice to see more fanfiction, more crazy fan-theories, more fanart. If the book would have been set from one season premiere to the finale, instead of from finale to the next season premiere, I think it would have been a lot stronger for it. Off-season, in my experience, is when the majority of the fandom goes back to Real Life (ew), and the really hardcore fans develop insane theories or write longer fics (think Cath from Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, writing her own version of the 8th Simon Snow book).
The lack of fandom content makes for a story that is almost hyper-focused on the budding relationship between Gena and Finn. It’s actually confusing how so many people missed the “bisexual” aspect of the story. Did we read the same book?
At the beginning of the book, Gena is a Jewish high school senior in boarding school. Finn is a recent college graduate who moved all the way across the country to live with her boyfriend, a surprisingly reluctant participant in a serious relationship. They meet and develop a fast friendship, which, after meeting for the first time at a fan convention, turns out to be a bit more complicated. For Gena, all she wants is a best friend, but she can’t seem to stop falling in love. For Finn, Gena is something new, different, someone who understands all sides of her, even the crazy fangirl side she hides from Charlie. They fall in love, but it doesn’t end there.
It drives me nuts that I have seen Finn written off as just another confused straight girl. I have been in her position, I’ve always been the not-queer-enough girl with a boyfriend. But she says so explicitly “I’m in love with this girl,” and it makes me furious to hear her written off as “straight.”
This book packs an emotional punch that I was not prepared for. I went in expecting a light, fluffy novel and I came out the other side with my heart shattered and shoved haphazardly back into my chest. It was somewhat of a shock to me that I wouldn’t find Gena, or Finn, or even Charlie anywhere else. They felt like real friends, real people, and their story was so close to my heart and so similar to my own experiences.
Someone talk to me about that ending. I’m satisfied, but sad, and I need to discuss.
Ultimately, I recommend this book if you’re looking for fandom, friendship, bisexual romance, angst, Sam and Dean Winchester, or just something to binge-read on a rainy afternoon from cover to cover.