by Wendy M. McDonald
From the back cover: When Frannie is desperate to get the attention of her crush, her fabulous (and gay) best friend Marcus suggests that Frannie chat with him online. Too bad Frannie’s terrified. She won’t type a word without Marcus’s help.
In the chat room, Marcus and Jeffrey hit it off. But the more Marcus writes, the more he’s convinced that Jeffrey is falling for him, not Frannie. Whose romance is this anyway?
If you’re already familiar with the basic plot of a Cyrano de Bergerac story, set your expectations aside. Yes, M or F? hits all the right beats, but Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts add several of their own.
And M or F? is funny! The kind of funny that makes you run into the next room and make everyone turn off the tv so you can read bits aloud.
Best friends Marcus and Frannie have an easygoing rapport—they’re both a bit self-depreciating in a way that’s appropriate for high school, and neither lets the other take themselves too seriously. With sophisticated senses of humor, eclectic tastes in movies, and families that support them (even if they are sometimes a little embarrassing), both Marcus and Frannie start from a good place. Nevertheless, they both have a journey to make.
Frannie has a bad track record with guys: she falls for creeps. But Jeffrey is different. He’s into causes…he’s polite…and he’s got a gorgeous German exchange student falling all over him. What could he possibly see in Frannie, who considers herself not even pretty-in-an-unconventional-way?
Marcus is newly, selectively out—but he’s also new(-ish) to Roaring Brook High School, and comfortable hanging with just Frannie. If Frannie and Jeffrey get together, where does that leave him? Probably home, alone, every Saturday night.
Because even though he enthusiastically prods Frannie into climbing out of her shell—signing her up as a volunteer for a landscaping project (and other, more ambiguous events) with Jeffrey—Marcus is reluctant to do the same. At least, not unless he’s online. Then he can relax and take a few risks, even if he is pretending to be Frannie.
This is a story of misinterpretations, of insecurities, and of people who don’t fit the mold they think they should. Who hasn’t felt like that? Most of us will probably admit that high school is about trying things on and finding out who we are. But how many of us shy away from admitting we’re still doing that as adults?
M or F? is also a story of inclusion and acceptance—of others, and of one’s self. It’s not enough to accept our own uniqueness if we’re not willing to include ourselves in the world around us. Like Frannie and Marcus, we have to step out of our comfort zones and disrupt the status quo, even if doing so is scary. We might get hurt—but we might find something we didn’t know we were missing.
One final note: as soon as I was done with it, I ran downstairs and told my daughters, “You have to read this book! But you can’t until I’ve written the post. But we should put this on the book club list for next year.“ Hermione tried to grab it from me, anyway.
Currently penning darkish stories in the garret of her New England home, Wendy is an active member of SCBWI and The Writers’ Loft. When not writing, she watches science fiction and fantasy shows with her geeky husband and daughters, argues with her beagle, and knits socks. Her short stories appear in two anthologies: Chaosium’s Once Upon an Apocalypse (“Mary Had a Little Limb” under the pseudonym Wendy Dabrowski) and Firsts: The Writers’ Loft Anthology (“First Comes Love”).