Follow Me Back
My grade for Follow Me Back bounced up and down like a dysfunctional pogo stick. One minute I felt a C would be a fair grade for what seemed to be not much more than grammatically correct fanfiction. A hundred pages later a particularly insightful moment bounced it back up to a B. I then reconsidered pushing it back down to a C because the characters were somewhat limited, only to rethink that when a plot twist took me by surprise. But a very frustrating ending solidified my decision to go low, indeed, it even caused me to add the minus as well, as a warning for anyone who needs real closure at the end of a story.
While away at a creative writing camp, eighteen-year old Tessa Hart experienced a traumatic event so severe it triggered a case of agoraphobia that has kept her trapped in her bedroom for months. Even opening the blinds causes her to spike into an anxiety-fueled panic. Her only tie to the outside world besides her mother, her boyfriend and her therapist is her complete and total devotion to pop star Eric Thorn. She spends hours following his career, writing fanfiction about him, collecting photos on her phone, and obsessing over any and all tweets from or about the YouTube star gone super-nova. The name Eric Thorn even serves as her mantra when she needs to calm herself down with deep breathing exercises. Despite the fact that her therapist explains that what she is doing is nothing more than projecting, Tessa swears that she can see in Eric’s expressions that he is fearful of something, that he’s in some kind of deep emotional pain. She can certainly relate to his feelings. Not that she’d ever have a chance to talk to the guy about it.
Eric Thorn is tortured. After a fellow pop star was murdered by an obsessed fan, Eric is absolutely terrified that his out-of-control fame is going to lead him to the same fate. It doesn’t help that his manager and record company require Eric to strut around half naked most of the time in order to keep his fans drooling. He hates that his career is no longer about making great music but rather more about strategic Twitter follower sprees and photo shoots and cheesy commercials. Too, Eric knows that his popularity is not based on anything of substance, and he feels resentment and disgust for the millions of girls who have fallen for nothing more than a set of six-pack abs.
Acting on frustration and impulse, Eric creates a fake Twitter account that he thinks he can use to paint himself as a narcissistic diva, unworthy of such blind devotion and lashes out at one of the up-and-coming members of his Twitter nation. @TessaHeartsEric doesn’t know him or care about the real person that he is, and he feels no guilt in calling her out for liking him just because of the pictures she sees online. Tess has no idea what inspired @EricThornSucks to attack her out of the blue. Her first reaction is to punch back at the online bully, but then she remembers that she doesn’t know this person’s story, and that maybe they are simply reaching out. To her surprise, the person on the other end of the Twitter posts is apologetic and seems to simply need a friend.
Over the next weeks and months, Eric and Tessa carry on digital correspondence, each of them finding comfort in the other. Tessa has no idea that she is speaking to the real Eric Thorn, and Eric is thrilled to find someone that he can trust to react to him. But Eric’s fans are as obsessive as ever. And Tessa’s agoraphobia shows no sign of improving.
Alternating between the present and events in the past and between Eric’s and Tessa’s points of view, their story is interwoven between excerpts of a police interrogation and the linear narrative of how the couple managed to connect in the first place, their growing virtual friendship, and the events that led up to the reason they both find themselves being questioned. Sprinkled heavily throughout the story are tweets between multiple characters, all of it building to a climax that deviates from the predictable.
For the first half of the story, I felt that I was reading a well-written fanfic. Eric and Tessa are stereotypes who could easily appear in a ‘How To Write Fanfic’ textbook. Eric is the proto-typical male pop star, with the perfect good looks, the sculpted body, the dreamy song lyrics and the charming smile, all manufactured to drive young girls crazy. In a slight twist, for a good long while, Eric is nearly unlikeable. His resentment and open contempt towards his fans is very off-putting. While I could understand his paranoia and his frustration that those fans loved nothing more than an image, he seemed to forget – or not even care – that they were the ones responsible for his success.
Tessa is the every-girl Mary Sue who could never imagine even meeting her crush, much less inspiring him to fall in love with her. I couldn’t imagine it, either. Because other than telling us from Eric’s point of view that Tessa makes him feel calm and peaceful, I never quite knew why he fell in love with her. Except that’s the whole premise of stories such as these; average girl inspires rock-god to fall madly in love with her.
As much as I tried to sympathize with Tessa’s mental illness, I found it increasingly frustrating that she couldn’t manage to leave her own room. Mostly this is a result of Geiger’s obvious intention to draw out the final reveal of Tessa’s traumatic experience until the last possible moment. I’m not a big fan of such manipulation, and if I had known what happened to the girl, I might have better empathized with her fear of the outside world. But to give Geiger some credit, when we do finally learn what happened to Tessa, her phobias make perfect sense. The author also manages to throw in some respectable red herrings that had me thinking that one course of events would happen only to be surprised when they didn’t. What began as a predictable plot definitely had some refreshing twists.
Given all of the above, I might have given this story a B-, but the ambiguous ending left me so frustrated that I seriously considered dropping my grade down to a D. I cannot give away any details, suffice it to say that after what is presumed to be a hopeful-for-now ending, a final scene is presented that offers the reader two plausible options for what happens next. The first time I read this scene, I had one idea of what had happened to Tessa and Eric. But after reading it again and considering other clues and the implausibility of my first conclusion, I came to a much darker, horrible supposition that rendered the entire story a horrific example of the unreliable narrator. I honestly don’t know which version is the correct one, but being left hanging in such a way diminished the story greatly.
If you enjoy fanfic that pairs celebrities with uber-fans, you may well enjoy this book. If you are a consummate tweeter who understands the strange politics of followers, following and followed, then you will probably appreciate this style of storytelling. If you need a happy ending with definitive closure, Follow Me Back will not please you at all.