Frannie has two good girl friends, Belina and Jenn, but her best friend is Marcus – a would-be film director, he’s out and proud to everyone except his eccentric grandmother Patricia. Frannie’s love life has a fairly disastrous track record, but that’s all set to change when Marcus discovers she’s been concealing a serious crush on Roaring Brook High’s resident champion of all things worthy (greening the planet, supporting the school sports teams, eschewing meat, boycotting China because of the annexing of Tibet), Jeffrey Osbourne. Chatting with him online is the perfect way to bypass Frannie’s in-person nerviness, but the only way she can do it is with Marcus at her side. Or rather, with her at Marcus’ side, as he types what she dictates, adding just a little polish.
It all goes beautifully at first – despite her black thumb Jeffrey asks her out after the tree planting work group Marcus volunteered her for. Frannie, being Frannie, assumes the invitation is for both her and Marcus, and the romantic lunch turns into Frannie chatting with Jeffrey’s (somewhat homophobic) friend Glenn while Marcus winds up chatting to Jeffrey. Trying to fix the damage, and purely by accident (at first), Marcus starts chatting to Jeffrey online, and discovers that he’s starting to fall for Jeffrey himself. If the person Jeffrey’s interested in is the online persona, then isn’t he really falling for Marcus, too?
M or F is written in alternating chapters from Marcus and Frannie’s point of view, a technique that is highly effective here. Many of Marcus’ chapters are described as their filmic equivalents, which had the potential to be annoying but was used deftly and sparingly enough that it instead added to the depiction of the character – I was reminded of the film Stranger Than Fiction (which I loved so much I saw it three times in the cinema and have just bought on DVD), where the graphic effects and author voice overs stopped just before they became irritating.
The characters are smart, developed, real and funny, and I could read genuine warmth and friendship in the text, which was a collaboration by real life straight-girl/gay-boy combo. I was concerned about the direction of the plot at one point, but the authors managed to avoid a banal and/or unrealistic ending and opted instead for an interesting and satisfying twist. Papademetriou has written a couple of other novels I’ll think about buying (after I move house and finish reading at least half my current unread backlog), and Tebbetts has written a (thus far) four-part Viking saga which, not so much. Plus I got to learn about two Bollywood films I had not previously heard of, which is always a good thing, though not necessarily for my wallet. – Alex