Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin have built careers on their friendship. Their Youtube channel Just Between Us is incredibly successful, they launched a podcast (also called Just Between Us) earlier this year, and now they’re on a book tour for their novel Please Send Help, a sequel to 2017’s New York Times bestseller I Hate Everyone But You. At the core of all of it is their irresistible dynamic as opposites who are also, as they describe themselves, “codependent besties.”
Dunn and Raskin met doing standup in LA. They connected over their shared experiences as women in a male-dominated field, and quickly became friends. “Allison was so good at reaching out and maintaining friendships and asking to hang out,” recalls Dunn, “stuff that people sometimes feel too vulnerable doing, but she really made an effort.” They started working together while still in what Dunn calls the “honeymoon phase.” For some people, collaborating so intensely in the public eye might have been too much pressure for a nascent friendship, but Raskin and Dunn are in it for the long haul. “We’re both in therapy and we’re both medicated, so it’s going great,” Dunn says.
Long-distance best friends Ava and Gen, the protagonists of I Hate Everyone But Youand Please Send Help,are based on Raskin and Dunn, and have a similar odd-couple chemistry. Please Send Helpreconnects with the two friends fresh out of college and trying to find their way in the adult world, Ava as an intern on a late-night show in New York City, and Gen as a cub reporter in rural Florida. Their struggles with dating, work, and self-worth are based on the authors’ own experiences.
While Gen came out as queer with relatively little fanfare in I Hate Everyone But You, being openly bisexual makes her much more of an outsider in her new, tiny town. She’s eager to make her mark as a writer, but somewhat adrift in the absence of a queer community, and the dearth of available options leads her into romantic misadventures. “Gen just wants to explore the whole queer experience,” says Dunn, “but she hasn’t realized that just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s good for you. That’s a journey she’s beginning at 22 that I didn’t really come to until 27 or 28.”
Meanwhile, Raskin sees Ava as “the worst version of [her]self.” Ava’s secret relationship with her supervisor is based on Raskin’s memories of “the desperation to find a partner, settling for guys who weren’t right and didn’t treat me well.” Ava’s greatest challenge is to develop stronger boundaries and a sense of her own value. Raskin adds, “It’s kind of nice to look back and realize I’m not that person anymore.”
Told through the friends’ email and text exchanges, Please Send Helpeschews narrative scaffolding to probe Ava and Gen’s most vulnerable thoughts and feelings. “We wanted to just cut to the heart of it, which is their friendship and their communication,” said Dunn. The epistolary structure allows the protagonists to raise timely issues without feeling like a Very Special Episode, such as Gen’s encounter with a gay man experiencing homelessness that puts her on the trail of her first big story. “Queer people are more likely to be homeless because of being kicked out of their homes or running away from a bad family situation,” Dunn says. “For Gen, obviously that would be something that tugged at her.”
While Gen launches a journalistic crusade against a local shelter that pressures LGBTQ people into conversion therapy, Ava copes with internalized shame and stigma after being diagnosed with herpes. “[STIs are] something you don’t really see addressed in YA,” says Raskin. She and Dunn hoped that by including it in the book, they could make the point that “it’s truly not that big of a deal, it doesn’t define you, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
That storyline is already resonating with fans. At a recent reading, after mentioning Ava having herpes, Dunn recalls two young women in the front responding with screams. “They came up to us afterward, and one of them was like, ‘OMG, I have herpes!’ They were so excited.”
Raskin and Dunn hope to return to Ava and Gen’s lives and adventures in the future. “Allison wants them in a retirement home together for the next—well, maybe not the next book,” Dunn tell me. “Maybe that’s, like, book 8.”