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BFFs Ava and Gen are headed off to college. While Ava is staying in California, Gen is headed off to Boston to attend a small liberal arts school. Through emails and text messages, we watch Ava and Gen grow up and learn to live without each others’ constant presence.
Now, apparently, Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin are YouTubers. Apparently, they promote their own channel in this book. I’d never heard of them (or their channel) prior to reading this book, so that just went totally over my head. I will, however, get into the nitty gritty of what I liked and disliked about this debut.
My first thoughts, upon starting this book, were that Ava and Gen are probably very realistic eighteen-year-olds, but they were both borderline intolerable for me. Both of them were judgmental and annoying and reminded me that I’m not eighteen years old anymore. I hope I wasn’t like that when I was their age, but I probably was. I do not want to go back to look at my old Livejournal because I’ll probably die of embarrassment.
Ava is dealing with her mental illness while being away from home and away from her best friend. She suffers from OCD, anxiety, depression, and possibly other conditions – we never hear about her actual diagnosis, only fleeting mentions of her conversations with therapists or symptoms she exhibited at a party or in class. In an attempt to make friends at college, Ava joins a sorority. Soon after, she begins her first real relationship with a goofy frat boy.
In Boston, Gen is coming to terms with her sexuality. After living a (mostly) heterosexual life in California, she realizes that she’s also really into women and embraces her new-found bisexuality with open arms. This was really great, but I wonder if the authors took this a bit too far. (More on that later.) Aside from her sexuality, Gen doesn’t really get her own storyline. Everything that happens to her is at least tangentially tied to her sexuality.
Ava and Gen are total opposites that somehow work as best friends. While Ava is very cautious and overthinks everything (much like me), Gen is very reckless in all aspects of her life. I thought that this would make me like Gen less, but I actually preferred her over Ava for the first half of the book or so. Unfortunately, in the second half of the book, Gen really disappointed me. Although it was great when she gently called Ava out on being problematic, I thought she became a little unreasonable as the book continued. Suddenly, Ava wasn’t even allowed to ask questions because Gen would freak out at anything other than blind, unwavering support.
Ava constantly had to apologize to Gen, even when (at least in my opinion) she’d done nothing wrong. You should be able to comment on your best friend’s life. You should be able to tell her she’s making a mess of things before she does something that she can’t take back. You should be able to ask her questions about her life without her cutting off all communication like a petulant child. I’m sorry, but the relationship between Ava and Gen was not a healthy one, and it had nothing to do with Ava’s mental illness.
It’s so hard to talk about this without digging into some spoilers, but let me try. When Ava expresses some concern about the people that Gen is choosing to involve herself with, Gen jumps down her throat. “YOU’RE NOT GAY, YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND!” she screams (via email or text) when Ava’s concern is nothing to do with the gender of the person Gen’s seeing, but more to do with the implications of the relationship. And even when Ava’s right, she has to apologize before Gen will talk to her again.
So, Gen comes out to Ava via email as she tells her about her recent sexual exploits. Shortly after, Gen begins to have sex with basically everyone she meets. By her own admission, she’s attracted to everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, personality… anything. Gen is very quick to call Ava out when she references a common stereotype or says something mildly offensive, but I worry that Gen’s character falls into common bisexual tropes.
Bi doesn’t have to mean promiscuous. It doesn’t mean that the character should be attracted to literally every person they meet. It shouldn’t mean that the character is solely interested in hookups without any commitment whatsoever. It doesn’t have to mean that the character destroys the rest of their life in search of their next conquest. Gen actually cuts off contact with Ava when Ava expresses (very reasonable) concerns about Gen’s behavior. Ava is painted as the villain who just doesn’t understand when Gen is obviously spiraling out of control.
I appreciate what the authors tried to do with representation. In a lot of areas, they succeeded. There are gay, bisexual, and trans characters that actually play major roles in the story. There are characters of different races and ethnicities, just as there would be on any normal college campus. Ava’s mental illness representation was great because it was just another part of her and not something that was a huge deal. I just wish that Gen’s sexual experimentation had been handled better, because, as a grown woman, I could only think of the danger she was putting herself in by going home with strange men and women.
I guess, in the end, I appreciate with the authors were trying to do. For me, the book was a miss. For someone closer to the characters’ age, it might be more of a hit. Life has sure changed since I started college. That much is for sure.
Final rating: ★★☆☆☆
I received a free ARC of I Hate Everyone But You from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review.