Dear Best Friend,I can already tell that I will hate everyone but you.Sincerely,Ava Helmer(that brunette who won’t leave you alone)
We’re still in the same room, you weirdo.Stop crying.G
So begins a series of texts and emails sent between two best friends, Ava and Gen, as they head off to their first semesters of college on opposite sides of the country. From first loves to weird roommates, heartbreak, self-discovery, coming out and mental health, the two best friends will document every moment to each other. But as each changes and grows into her new life, will their friendship be able to survive the distance?
I’ve been sitting on this book and mulling over how I feel for a couple of days now. I loved the idea of the premise. As someone who has moved a lot, a story about dealing with those long distance friendships was a welcomed sight. And while this book did deal with that a bit, it also had things that weren’t so welcomed.
First things first, this a modern-day epistolary book. The whole things is told via Ava and Gen’s emails and texts. This makes for a quick read and generally works okay. You get the basic story and the general emotion of each girl. The emails and texts are sometimes a bit over the top, but that’s to be expected. However, at the same time, I did wish for more details at times. I felt like I was missing something by not being in the moment. I’m also hoping the final version will have dates and time stamps attached. It was really hard to gauge the passage of time between communication unless one of the girls drops a season/how long it’s been in one of their messages.
WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD
There are a couple of things that made the book go south for me. One, is the relationship between Gen and her TA, Charlotte. One moment, Charlotte is simply helping her edit her piece for the paper. Innocent and appropriate enough, right? Well, you blink and they’re suddenly lovers, in the loosest sense of the word. I can hear you saying, what’s the big deal, they’re both adults? Well, yes, but it still feels wrong. For one, Charlotte is in a position of power both as her TA and later as faculty advisor for the paper. Two, Charlotte is 32. That’s a huge difference, especially at that age. Three, Gen is not the only student she is sleeping with. There is at least one other girl, who Gen was also sleeping with, but it definitely sounded like it has been more. It just utterly and completely rubbed me the wrong way, especially when you throw in a transphobic storyline. Without telling the whole story, Charlotte is accused of writing transphobic pieces in the past, which ultimately leads to Gen quitting the newspaper, the whole reason she picked the college she did. If the Gen and Charlotte line had ended there, I would have chalked it up to being at college and experimenting. However, even after all that, Gen ditches Ava, who is visiting over Thanksgiving, to go have a weekend tryst with Charlotte. Considering how much of the book revolved around this pretty unhealthy relationship, I wanted to scream.
With Ava, it was her mental illness. Something about how it all was handled felt a bit off the entire book for me. Ava definitely had OCD, depression, and anxiety. I feel like there may be more going on, but if so, it’s not given a name. I have my own theories, though. The general portrayal is not my issues, but how past events are thrown in. For example, she’s also a cutter. There is a slight edge of urgency to it, but it’s only mentioned a couple times and dropped completely once Gen tells her mom. There’s also this weird spot where it’s nonchalantly mentioned that Ava tried to kill her mom in 6th grade once. It’s meant as a ploy to show how important it is for her to be on the right medication, but it still felt a bit odd. This, however, may go back to the epistolary-no-details issue I had above, but at times I felt like there was just a check list of all the things wrong with Ava mentally.
I’ve debated on if I wanted to mentioned this, but thought I would at least briefly. When Gen comes out, there’s a lot of mislabeling on Ava’s part. Repeatedly, Ava calls her gay. Gen does correct her by saying she still likes boys and does bring up bisexuality, but Ava to a point still implies she’s gay since Gen is mainly sleeping with women. It does seem to stop once Gen labels herself as queer, but it still irritated me a little. Especially when there was a whole passage about how could Gen fantasize about a man when she was gay! I know a lot of this is supposed to be that Ava is a poor sheltered girl (there are several other painful questions especially about trans stuff), but it’s a little unbelievable considering she’s in modern day L.A. I don’t expect her to be fully enlightened, but I would expect her to know more at her age.
In part, a lot of that may have to do that this book felt like Dunn and Raskin maybe took their own college experiences or YouTube stories and crammed them into this book, especially since they name/link dropped their own YouTube channel in the middle of the book. Honestly, I’m not really sure I would consider this a teen book. Maybe more NA? I don’t know the voices used just didn’t feel too authentic to me. It felt a lot like 30 year olds pretending to be college students.
In the end, this book wasn’t for me at all, but considering how many people are raving about it, this may be a “it’s not you, it’s me” situation. Or maybe if I had been a fan of Dunn and Raskin’s in general, it may have had stronger appeal. I’ll be interesting to see if things shift once the book is out and more reviews are posted.