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Book Discussion: Gena/Finn

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Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

Summary

Gena and Finn meet on the internet while bonding over their shared fandom – the Up Below show. They write fanfic and share theories about where the show is going. Slowly, their relationship turns into more than just discussions about the show and into full fledged friendship…or even more. As things progress, Finn’s boyfriend grows concerned with their close relationship. Gena’s transition to college does not go as well as hoped and a visit to a fan convention triggers some big life decisions…leading to an accident and Gena’s mental health taking a turn for the worse.

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heartRomantic Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The romance was interesting, but unclear if it was in fact a romance or a very intense friendship. The characters don’t make the “is this or isn’t it” clear from their interactions with each other, but more from conversations with other characters. So, it was a little like we got a sense of how intense the feelings were from others’ reactions (ie. Charlie) rather than from anything actually done within Gena and Finn’s relationship. This is both a blessing and a curse – I believe this story is supposed to represent chracters on the quiltbag spectrum, but it skirts the line of actually showing it which means people can easily deny it if they want to. I’ve seen some reviews complaining about where Finn ends up, but I think that part feels natural considering where she started. Where Gena ends is a little less satisfactory.

However, if we were evaluating the romance of Charlie and Finn? Charlie might (eventually) be the most mature, understanding boyfriend ever.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

So, if you read this as intense lady friendship, this is awesome because we get two supportive, amazing girls giving strength to each other. If you read this as non-platonic lady relationship, then this is also pretty cool because that’s something you don’t often see, but not awesome because it’s just on the edge of unclear.

Gena has a relationship with a male classmate in the beginning and it often involves sex and there’s no judgment about that. Finn struggles with the possibility of marriage and is able to articulate why and talk through it and there’s no judgment about marrying or not marrying (when it pertains to the actual marriage, related to relationships with other people, there’s judgment).

This is feminist in its everyday-ness and in the celebration and appreciation of fandom. This allows girls and young women to love something and celebrate it and immerse themselves in it and fandom is given validity and power. That is rare.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

There’s a lot here and a lot of it is #ownvoices, which makes it extra exciting.

Gena is clearly stated to be Jewish, but there’s no physical description of the characters (that I remember) – the advantage of online friendships. I appreciated that it was left open, though that does mean the default reader will think “white.”

A huge part of this story is connected to mental health/illness. I don’t have much experience with this , so I’m not sure if it’s well done. I am 70% sure some aspects of this are also #ownvoices but I do NOT want to say that for sure. I think the openness and Gena’s discussion about – “it’s ok to say I see a doctor, but not ok to talk about why I see the doctor or how I feel day to day” was really important. If we don’t create the open space for conversations about mental health/illness as a WHOLE, we’ll never get rid of the stigma.

The beginning and end of the story feel a bit like two different narratives, demarcated by Gena’s medication abruptly stopping. I’m not sure how to talk about my reaction to the second half – coupled with the doctor’s opinion that a lower dosage of drugs would be ok and Gena’s resistance to this, I can’t tell if it’s trying to show that ableism includes thinking drugs are a crutch and that medical professionals should listen to the people with the illness or something else that I can’t put my finger on. Finn (and Charlie)’s behavior and support, though, are a great example of someone trying to be there, but not knowing exactly how to do so.

Also, I am a little worried that the thing from her childhood and then the thing that happened may lean a little on the “crazy” people are magical trope.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I generally don’t like books that are new/mixed media and stray from prose, but in this book I saw how it added to the story as a whole. I loved recognizing the pieces of a particular fandom that got pulled in and that fandom in general is given respect, too.

I found both Gena and Finn intriguing characters and I liked seeing their relationship grow. Gena’s parents are awful all around, but her aunt and uncle seem to be peripheral adults that actually have an understanding about what is happening. I wish that Finn was more willing to ask for help, or at least an explanation, from them. I was a little confused why she felt she had to do everything alone. One big hole: she is trying to understand how to pay bills but never considers the fact that Gena’s school was paid for somehow?

Overall, I wanted to know more about the girls and learn how things ended. I was a little surprised by how quickly things unraveled, but loved the exploration of the bond between them.


Favorite Character

Charlie – He shows great understanding for Finn as a college graduate confused about where her life should go, tries to learn about the things she is passionate about, and finds a way to love and respect her while also helping out someone despite the fact that he’s not entirely comfortable with where that friendship lies on the intimacy spectrum.

Favorite Line

I’m going back to my personal failure at collecting lines…

Fun Author Fact

I really suggest following Moskowitz on Twitter (@HannahMosk); she shares a lot of insightful stuff about diversity and her careful efforts to write all of her characters with research, love, and the care they deserve.

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is an intense read – the relationship builds and then the story takes a turn toward something very different from the beginning. I think this is a great story about fandom, friendship – and possibly more than friendship, and mental illness. Some readers will love this and others will probably feel it is not their cup of tea.

Read These Next

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz for very clear bisexual representation with an exploration of eating disorder recovery and intense friendships or As I Descended (out in September) by Robin Talley for a Macbeth retelling that also features a girl-girl relationship.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

She received her copy of Gena/Finn for free through NetGalley, in return she provided this honest review.

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Book Discussion: What We Left Behind

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Summary

Toni and Gretchen have the cutest relationship in their high school and 22082075have set the bar for love and all future relationships that their classmates dream of. But what looks perfect on the outside isn’t always so and when they go off to college, the two find their relationship buckling under the pressure of navigating their changing identities. In high school, Toni identified as genderqueer, but once at Harvard begins to explore other terms and feelings that have always been bubbling under the surface. Gretchen is left trying to understand everything from afar.

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heartRomance Score: You’re Trying & Good Effort

Toni and Gretchen are adorable and sparks fly from the moment they first see each other. The sexy times are hot without being explicit and the kissing is on point. And, because we end up watching them navigate very difficult terrain, it feels like a realistic relationship. However, it also feels realistic because Toni treats Gretchen pretty terribly. It becomes all about Toni’s issues and what Toni is going through rather than an equal relationship.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

Firstly, this should probably be changed since the book is not really about feminism. But, both characters are empowered to make choices, own their identities and actions, and to feel free to be themselves – whatever that means. I think the book displays some wonderful examples of what it means to navigate expectations and how difficult it can be to feel like the “lesser” person in a relationship. I admired Gretchen’s struggle with why she chose NYU a lot because it seems to be something lots of people deal with when coupled up. And, Toni’s struggle gives a point by point map for thinking about gender, the binary vs spectrum, and the roles we choose and how we present them – something everyone should consider.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book has genderqueer, transgender, lesbian, and straight characters, so it definitely has that category covered. Additionally, there is a Korean character, several black characters, and a decent representation of regional differences (Northern vs Southern US, urban vs rural). It’s a little lacking on the economic lines and there were a few times where I felt the story was aided by the characters’ privilege, but that’s ok. I think this book is important because it’s not a “seriously traumatic QUILTBAG” book – there’s difficult issues and families aren’t always loving, but it’s not about depression, suicide, or violence.

I will note that, by the nature of Toni and Gretchen’s relationship, it’s a little “time for some definitions” in some sections, but it never crosses into “let me give you a lesson” territory. The explanations fit into the story fairly well and aren’t being shoehorned into the conversations. Rather, they flow from the characters’ experiences and emotions instead of from the need to get a point across.

NOTE: After reading a lot of other reviews, I’ve learned that many readers find the use of “genderqueer” and the portrayal of the community very problematic. I think this is one of those times where my personal lack of knowledge/non-identification was clearly a blindspot. I’m not going to change the score, but encourage you to do your own research.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I loved getting to know the characters and seeing them struggle to find the middle ground (or not) for their relationship. I thought Toni and Gretchen were great examples of what going to college feels like – especially how your life can change drastically in just a few days and it’s hard to translate to someone that’s not there with you just how big those changes are when it happens in the simplest details. I’m excited to see more characters on the gender spectrum and a wide spectrum of family reactions as well. I love Robin Talley’s writing style – the two person perspective works especially well here as we see the confusion on both sides of the relationship and the desperation as things begin to change.


Favorite Character

Samantha – We don’t get to know her well until the end, but I loved that she played against stereotype.

Favorite Line

“Nothing good in the history of ever has started with the words We need to talk.

The characters are well developed and I really loved the dialogue and being in their heads (and I’m not a lover of first person).

Fun Author Fact

Talley is writing a lesbian retelling of MacBeth and I am SO EXCITED.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. The characters are engaging and their relationship is beautiful. It’s also a great book for being introduced to what genderqueer and transgender mean – for those not identifying as such and, I think, for those struggling to understand where they live on the spectrum. Plus, the writing is awesome!

Read These Next

I’m going to recommend Talley’s other published book, Lies We Tell Ourselves for more teens struggling to fight preconceived notions and Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz about a girl trying to break off the labels and make a space to live in.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

 

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, Romance

Book Discussion: The Rearranged Life

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 The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma

Summary

Nithya is a smart, driven college senior with a plan: She wants to be a doctor. Her family has worked hard to give her all the best of American life – the top tutors, the best education, and even the freedom to live as both an American girl and an Indian immigrant daughter. Her only restriction is that she must marry a boy from her traditional Indian-American community. And Nithya has no problem with this – she’s always loved and respected her parents, and believes that her dreams and their dreams can align. Until she meets James, the sweet handsome kid in her chemistry class. As Nithya and James fall in love, Nithya must face (for the first time) the fact that her desires could destroy everything her parents have worked for.

rearranged life

heartRomance Score: Good Effort 

While I wasn’t super impressed with the way these two initially connected,  I really liked how the romance between Nithya and James built throughout the story. It felt like a true “college romance” for me – with a lot of studying, late night hangouts, and even a reference to Penn State’s “Thon”. I also loved the initial connections between Nithya and James’s family. I would have loved to see the next chapter of this romance, but maybe there will be a part two? Please?

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

Nithya knows what she wants, and will do what she can to get it. At the same time, she maintains respect for the traditions of her family and the sacrifices that they’ve made to give her opportunities. My only qualm is that I thought the initial meeting between the two – where Nithya was almost date raped – was a little too “damsel in distress” for me.
diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: A+ Success

I loved that this story really dug into the challenges that (some) Indian-American girls face when dating boys from outside their communities. The novel really captures the nuances of the struggle. Nithya faces a few challenges here – not only does she not want to disappoint her parents, but she also doesn’t want to take advantage of their kindness. They have let their daughter assimilate with mainstream American culture with only a single restriction- and now she’s broken it. And in breaking that, Nithya faces the challenges of both no longer fitting into the traditional mold for a desi girl, but also trying to how to keep her culture intact in a potential interracial marriage… all at the age of 21.

As an Indian-American girl (who recently married a not very Indian-American, very adorable Caucasian boy), I really loved the perspective of this story. We need more stories talking about the lives of Indian-Americans (and all minorities) with respect and nuance for the traditions of each culture and the challenges them.

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Awesome Factor: Between Good Effort & A+ Success

While my life doesn’t exactly reflect Nithya’s, I loved finding a story about Indian-Americans that reflected the world that my friends and I live in. I have a few small qualms with it (some of the dialogue seems scripted and a few plot points weak), but these are minor issues of a first-time author. I was thoroughly impressed, and can’t wait to read anything else Annika Sharma writes.


Favorite Character

Anisha. First – There is finally a character with my name in a book!!! And second – She is sweet, funny and a good contrast to her serious sister.

Favorite Line

“… I made no apologies for who I am. He says it’s his favorite thing about me and though I won’t admit it, it’s my favorite thing about me, too. And when you find someone who values the same things in yourself that you do , there’s a burst of happiness that’s hard to put out. We shine together and separately.”

 Fun Author Fact

According to her blog, Annika wrote The Rearranged Life in the month before starting graduate school. That is some insane (Nithya-like) productivity.

She also has a crush on Emma Watson and the Duchess of Cambridge, which means she has excellent taste.

Read This Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan (our review here).  Leila is the only Iranian-American in her ultra-rich, preppy high school… and she also happens to like girls. What happens when a new beautiful and wild student joins her school?

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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