Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!
Once, long ago, I used to watch Daria and then get RIGHT online to talk about it. Though I didn’t write stories or draw pictures about it, I had favorite characters and discussions with people all across the country – and the world – about that show. Reading this novel made me smile – and cringe – because it was very, very real in terms of the “feels” behind the forums. And yes, I just outed myself by mentioning Daria, and did I already mention that was long, LONG ago?? Okay then.
Synopsis: Up Below is a police show starring two hunky guys which everyone loves – especially Gena and Finn. They light up their fandoms weekly, talking to internet friends about their favorite characters, analyzing the script and each interaction. Finn draws fanart, while Gena does in-depth “fixes,” rewriting disappointing episodes or bridge mini-episodes to make things make more sense. It’s more than a way to pass the time; it’s a huge part of Gena and Finn’s social lives. Real life is sometimes more boring. Gena is a recent high school graduate, leaving a posh boarding school for a Seven Sisters college, while Finn has been out of college – she went to a state school – for awhile, and while job hunting learns just how useful her humanities degree really isn’t. Finn feels like she’s too dependent on her boyfriend, Charlie, who’s paying way more of the rent and necessities than she is. Her parents keep wondering when she’ll come home – or get married – but she’s only twenty-two, right? It’s too soon for all of that. Maybe Charlie doesn’t even really know her – I mean, he doesn’t even know about her fandom artwork, or her online friends. And his World of Warcraft buddies are just not the same. Not at all.
Meanwhile, Gena is dying to get away from high school, but college turns out to be… horribly “yay, let’s all learn together” perky, when real life is anything but. Gena’s parents, globe-trotting and always unresponsive, are even worse than usual, when she needs them more than she can articulate. Only Finn is there for her – and soon, she’s leaning far harder than is healthy.
From meeting in real life at a Con to emailing, texting, and writing back and forth, the girls’ friendship deepens rapidly. And then it hits a gray area. Charlie’s not sure he has a girlfriend anymore – and Finn’s not sure exactly how she feels about Gena. Gena is needy, young, and scared. Finn and the show is all she has — and she’s always in fear of Finn. How far does one go for friendship? How much is too much, for someone whose TV interest you share? Is that enough to love someone? To make them family?
A novel full of the messy and confusing things which can mean love – or security – or keeping faith with friendship, and the risk and rewards of dragging a friendship out of a digital screen and into real life.
Observations: In part, I related a lot to Finn in this novel. I was older than a lot of the other fans on the Daria boards, and found it weird to be a post-college student talking about things that really mattered to me to… high school students. Not that there’s anything wrong with high school students, but it felt …odd, the power dynamics mismatched, and — just weird. Potentially exploitative. Every conversation was potentially filled with minefields of misunderstandings, and it was surprising – and distressing – to see how much the snide comment or hurtful opinion of some stranger on the forum could sting. Talking intently and critically about what we love in our art can be a big part of our lives – but as Finn learns, it’s only one part, and sometimes that part is unsupportable in conjunction with Real Life. In the case of this novel, Real Life quickly becomes huge and unwieldy.
I was not sure how to feel about the emotional gray area the girls moved into so quickly. Not that their emotional dependence on each other was a gray area – there was fairly clear codependency, which was scary – but the gray area of them being unable to define their relationship — and refusing to do so. They both seemed to forget that how we regard each other is a choice… but it was clear that with the scalding emotional temperature of the constantly-in-touch-no-distance digital relationship that they both lost boundaries.
As for Finn’s boyfriend, I think Charlie was written as super-human in this novel, ever giving, ever forgiving, ever loving – and completely, crazily unrealistic for a young man whose life gets upended by this fandom friendship. This, in part, is why thoough the two parts of the novel are each written really well, the novel feels bisected, for me, like two pieces that don’t quite have a bridge.
The novel ends not unhappily, but enigmatically, with the conflict and the vast highs and lows abruptly leveling out. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, either, but it could definitely be described as realistic. This novel accurately reflects the experiences of being part of a fan forum, the definite highs and lows, and how we weave the pieces of our lives online so tightly with the lives of others.
Conclusion: Messy, complex — yet real. Internet Fandoms and IRL friendships sometimes have undefined parts, and are a never-to-be forgotten part of growing up for a lot of young adults. While I can’t say I loved this novel, it perfectly depicts the life in this confusing and by turns straightforward novel about the real staying power of love, however it’s defined.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of Chronicle Books. You can find gena/finn by Hannah Moskowitz & Kat Helgeson at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!