Member Reviews

In 2011, three successful and highly educated women fell head over heels for the brilliant and charming Ethan Schuman. Unbeknownst to the others, each exchanged countless messages with Ethan, staying up late into the evenings to deepen their connections with this seemingly perfect man. Eventually, they learn Ethan isn’t who he claimed to be, and that is only the beginning of the deception.

What were my initial thoughts?

From the moment I picked up Anna Akbari’s There is No Ethan, I couldn’t put it down. This isn’t the average catfish story. In fact, this began before the debut of the groundbreaking documentary, Catfish. Why are we drawn to stories about con artists (and their victims)? Akbari posits that it’s not schadenfreude (at least not entirely), but rather an innate understanding that we aren’t invincible to manipulators like “Ethan Schuman”. If they can find a vulnerability, they’ll take it. They may already have found a way in to our lives…

If I told you I read the stories of women conned by what would later popularly be called a “catfish”, who would you picture? We tend to imagine someone different from ourselves because it’s uncomfortable to imagine this happening to us. But the women conned by “Ethan Schuman” include a PhD in Sociology, a PhD in psychology (this one hit directly home for me), a successful architect, and an attorney. It includes intelligent, vibrant women with good families, support systems, careers, friends, and lives. The thing that they had in common was an openness to find love, and that is where Ethan found a vulnerability to exploit.

After I started the book, I vaguely remembered the Observer article that came out back in 2014. This book contains much more in-depth information, analysis, and updates on what has happened since 2014. At the time, it seemed novel—catfishing was relatively recent as a concept. There was the famous documentary, plus the story that broke about Notre Dame football player, Manti Te’o. People were just realizing that there was a version of this con that doesn’t go after money or sex, it attacks someone’s emotional well-being. Akbari makes a strong case for the damage this type of con can do.

How did it all start?

The book opens with an email exchange between three women in March of 2011. Anna Akbari and Gina Dallago connected through a friend of Anna’s named Matt, who Gina happened to reach out to about his shared educational history with Ethan Schulman. Matt recognized the questions and the photo from Anna’s request a few months earlier. They eventually find and include another Anna (British Anna, as she is referred to). The emails are brief but powerful. In their brevity the reader can feel the hesitance and guard that these women have up when communicating online with a stranger. This is a stark contrast to the view we see of them just months earlier, before they were cruelly manipulated.

Moving back to December of 2010, Akbari describes first engaging with a handsome, Jewish man named Ethan Schulman in an email exchange through the dating site OkCupid. Over the next six weeks, Akbari describes the extensive amount of communication between herself and Ethan, largely over email, G-chat, or text. Ethan seemed to be available at all times of the day and night. She lost sleep because she was enjoying their conversations so much. Ethan was intelligent and he spoke with elegant and thoughtful prose.

How did it progress so quickly with Anna?

With actual excerpts from their numerous online exchanges, Akbari shows (rather than tells) the reader how someone like Ethan operates and why he is so effective. He is always available, quick on his feet, and has an explanation for everything. The first time he missed their arranged meeting, he came back and described a heartbreaking esophageal cancer diagnosis and stay in the hospital. He described in detail the disease and treatment plans. He made a strong case for not wanting her to meet him in this state. It made sense, all things considered.

Over time, Akbari saw a different side of Ethan. He would flip a single comment on its head, picking a fight and berating her for perceived mistrust or cheating. He’d communicate with her until they came back to the same page, where he said all of the right things and hooked her further in. Those spikes in emotion and the dopamine hit after it is resolved can be like a drug. Ethan would also at times talk extensively about ex-girlfriends (a pattern he repeated with other women and part of how they eventually found one another). One interesting thing was that he would throw in a sexual encounter at a point when they weren’t exclusive, but also were communicating deeply enough for it to hurt. This seemed to only pull them in more, as they didn’t want to lose contact with this person who they connected with.

What was the breaking point?

After several missed connections and red flags piling up, Akbari finally called him out. Show up, or they are done. Ethan was enraged over this, and over Akbari cutting contact. A few days later, he tried to re-engage her. Meanwhile a woman named Gina had been going through an eerily similar experience with Ethan. In an effort to verify if he was who he claimed to be, she reached out to former classmates at the high school and university Ethan graduated from. This person happened to be a friend of Anna’s whom she had reached out to months earlier with the same question. He forwarded Gina’s message, setting off the fuse that would eventually uncover Ethan’s true identity.

From there, the reader gets a front seat to observe how the women connected, discovered Ethan’s true identity, confronted him, and what has transpired since. For the sake of spoilers (though this is already documented online with Ethan’s real identity), I’m going to talk about those parts over on my spoiler-review so I can really get into the person behind the account. (I’m still not over the surprise and horror, if I’m honest)

What did I think overall?

This is a well-crafted, compelling book that hooked me start to finish. Akbari displays both a vulnerability in sharing her story and an ability to offer mostly unbiased analysis on how Ethan and others like him operate (it would be impossible for her to be truly unbiased, but she approaches this with the clinical analysis of a scientist). She doesn’t apologize for believing him or offer excuses, but focuses on the blend of logic, emotion, and believing the best in another person that make good people fall prey to con artists. The text-based exchanges pepper the first two thirds of the book and easily show the reader how an intelligent, social woman could fall victim to Ethan’s tactics.

One aspect that was particularly effective was that she framed the story largely from her own perspective. She begins with how she first met and fell for Ethan, and how their relationship progressed. She describes his turn towards volatility and how it pulled her in. She also describes the oscillation between over-communication and occasional silence. Ethan loved a long-crafted email after a fight. In a way, this was something Akbari liked about him. During her six weeks with Ethan, she heard several times about his British ex-girlfriend, Anna. When she connects with Gina and realizes Ethan told Gina about her, she knew British Anna was real and was able to find her.

After the three confront Ethan, it’s clear that British Anna is having the hardest time. I’ll talk more on that in my spoiler review, but suffice it to say that two and half years being manipulated by someone can be confusing. Even when you know it is all lies, it can be hard to let that connection go. British Anna is an important and heartbreaking example of that. From there, Akbari chronicles how they learned what happened after their confrontation, what led to the 2014 article, and what she has learned since. She ends with a blisteringly provocative discussion of this type of identity hacking and emotional manipulation—at least as damaging as financial manipulation.

Brilliant and gripping!

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Wow. This book was an engrossing read, for sure!

I was in my late 20's when the movie Catfish came out, followed by the TV show. While I had never personally been on a dating site, I was in those "prime" dating years when dating sites really started gaining traction and becoming a more common way of meeting people. That said, I actually met my husband via MySpace (a pre-Facebook social media app, for those of you too young to be familiar with it...haha). I remember my mom being very concerned about me meeting someone online because she had seen a news special about "these people that send fake pictures and tell lies about who they are". So catfishing was something that was talked about extensively and stories continually came out about it. Even though so many stories sounded the same, it continued to be shocking and somehow made for riveting TV, because you just couldn't believe these people and their audacity to do what they were doing.

So while this book tackles a pretty grand catfishing scheme, and while the "catfishing" aspect of it is not necessarily anything new, what is shocking is who this person turns out to be. "Ethan" is unlike any "catfisher" I've seen revealed on the TV show or otherwise. No, it is not a celebrity and it's highly unlikely it's someone you've ever heard of. But the profile of this person is vastly different from what you are probably expecting.

I found it so interesting to learn how Ethan tricked and strung along several women; some for only a few weeks, some for a few months, some for several years. The gaslighting, the abuse, the control that Ethan had over these women is astounding. And what is probably the worst part is the emotional upheaval and trauma that the victims feel long after the "relationship" has ended. It's the long-lasting effects that many people don't stop to think about when just feeling the shock value of hearing these stories.

I did think the first half of the book felt a little long. The marketing does describe it as "part memoir'" and I do understand the author's desire to take us through how she, as a professional, intelligent, and successful woman could have been fooled and strung along by Ethan for several months; however, it just felt like it took a long time to get to the meat of the book, especially since we know from the very title that this is a catfishing situation. There's all this buildup, but you know from the start that Ethan is not going to be who he says he is, so after several lengthy chapters about their interactions, I was ready to see the story move forward.

That said, once a few of the other victims are introduced, it does seem to pick up the pace and I do like the way the book progresses from there. The shock value in this book isn't in the catfishing itself (because again, as a reader you know this is the case from the title of the book), but more in the reveal and then how things are handled once the reveal has been made.

This book will make you feel so sad for the victims but also so much anger on their behalf, as well as frustration at the systems that don't do anything to punish the people that do these things. It makes great points about how as a society, we still don't quite know how to tackle these issues of "digital assault" when someone has never physically laid a hand on you, but harmed you just the same.

It's hard because victims of catfishing schemes never truly get justice for what happened to them, but the three women in this book did an incredible job of finding each other, exposing Ethan, and doing what they can to prevent Ethan from harming anyone else.

Thank you to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the e-arc of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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This book is the perfect example of everything millennials have come to learn about the internet- you can never truly know who you are interacting with online. The story mainly follows Akbari’s experience with “Ethan”, a man she met on an internet dating site. Over the course of a few months, Ethan became a major part of Akbari’s life. Every time the two had arranged to met up some sort of emergency came about that would make it impossible to meet but also made it difficult for Akbari to accuse Ethan of lying (because WHO would lie about having cancer??). I found this story particularly interesting as I was an active user on OKCupud during this time, which is where Ethan met a lot of his victims. As someone familiar with the platform, it was easy to really immerse myself in this story and understand how everything came to be. It wasn’t uncommon to talk to somebody online for weeks at a time before meeting up in person so I never questioned why or how any of the victims got so attached that they didn’t just walk away. After suspecting Ethan was lying for quite some time, Akbari ends up getting in touch with two other victims. We learn about “British Anna” and Gina’s stories, which closely mimic Akbari’s. I went into this book completely blind and was so surprised at some of the things that this trio ends up figuring out about “Ethan”. I’m sure many people think they are too smart to ever fall for someone lying about their identity on the internet- but “Ethan” seemingly intentionally chooses people who are incredibly intelligent (either having a PhD or working on one). Is this because “Ethan” wants a challenge or because he is drawn to people with a similar background as him? Everything “Ethan” has ever said quickly becomes a possible clue as to who he really is. This book grabbed my attention quickly and kept me hooked. I found myself on the edge of my seat, waiting for the moment everything would come crashing down. This is a perfect story for anyone from true crime enthusiasts to reality tv show lovers.

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Yowza this was a wild ride! This book shares th red differing stories from women who were conned by a man…or not…named Ethan Shuman. The author is one victim and she gives a very detailed account of how she fell for “Ethan”. At certain points I definitely thought how on earth could such a smart woman fall for this?? But then you realize so have countless others. The book is a real page turner and I was on the Edge of my seat once the women begin trying to find out Ethan’s true identity. I’ve since gone down a real catfish rabbit hole. This odd type of con really should be looked at more- it seems so weirdly rampant and obviously pretty easy to pull off. In any case this book was well done and really gets you inside the head of the women victims. Highly recommend.

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There is No Ethan is an absolutely compelling book that I read in a day. Anna Akbari met Ethan through an online dating site and while they were both excited to meet in person, things kept happening that kept them apart. Was she being catfished?

Akbari is a sociology professor at NYU so I hoped this would get more into the sociology of online dating and catfishing. However it was still really interesting to hear the story and I also appreciate that it’s written with enough time after the events to get some good updates on what happened.

Thank you to the publisher, Netgalley and for the free ebook and audiobook to review. I listened to the audiobook on a long drive and it made the time fly.

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“There Is No Ethan” will be available on June 2, 2024. I would like to thank the publisher and author for providing an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this novel via NetGalley.

Rating: 3 stars

It’s hard to believe this story is non-fiction. “There Is No Ethan” follows Anna and her online relationship with a man named Ethan. Ethan seems too good to be true, and it turns out he is. With the help of two other victims of Ethan’s catfish scheme, Anna discovers that the person she has connected with is not a man at all, but a woman named Emily. I felt so angry for the women in this memoir. I cannot imagine the feelings of rage, pain, and distrust that this experience caused the victims.

The writing was excellent, and the story was well told. However, I found it to be somewhat repetitive at times. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in true crime or con artist stories

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I quite literally could not put this book down yesterday, and the few times I had to (why does my family need to talk to me?) I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Here is my advice: Go into this book blind, DO NOT GOOGLE this case, just let the book unfold and you will feel the shock the way it was intended.

There is No Ethan is a true crime book written by one of "Ethan's" victims. Ethan targeted intelligent, highly educated, accomplished women and drew them into his emotional web. Anna Akbari was one of those women, and in 2011, she ended up connecting with two others and together they uncovered the truth behind Ethan.

The intriguing thing about this case is that it didn't involve money, it involved emotional catfishing. This is part of what makes this story so captivating. It's more cut and dried when the catfishing involves money or other material things--you get the police involved and if and when you catch the person behind it, you are taken seriously and can possibly do something about it. When it is emotional, all bets are out the window for how it is handled. Some people don't believe you, and even if they do, they think--oh, it's just a relationship, it's not that bad. Even when you report the person to authorities, most if not all will fail to recognize the deep impact this can have on a person's life.

Akbari's thoughtful and emotional writing shines a spotlight on the glaringly abusive nature of this case. I applaud all of these women for having the courage to come forward with their stories and educate readers about different types of catfishing and abuse.

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Well, it's been less than 24 hours since I was gifted access to this book (thank you to NetGalley and the publisher), and I devoured it in two sittings. I can say with confidence that even the most twisty of thrillers can't compete with the tension and dramatic irony that Akbari brings to this story.

This is a book about "catfishing," a type of social media scam that involves creating fake identities to deceive strangers, usually in the context of online dating. For several months in 2011, the author was the victim of one such scam; but, she soon uncovered a much larger network of victims -- all female PhDs in their 30s -- not exactly the "easily duped" crowd. Much of the "dialogue" in this story comes from real chat logs between "Ethan" and the women he emotionally manipulates ("torments" would not be hyperbolic), which kept me flying through the pages and brought a level of realism that can't be manufactured. The early chapters, which detail "Ethan's" love-bombing as he hooks his unsuspecting victims, made me all the more sick to my stomach because... this is real.

The "mystery" of who is behind the Ethan hoax is likewise documented in meticulous detail -- and, without giving anything away, the eventual "mask-off" moment was satisfying. In light of the facts discussed in the Afterword, I really hope that this book takes off and gets people talking. It's a perfect book club pick, especially if you enjoy true crime or sociology.

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“There Is No Ethan" is both an eye-opener and a page-turner, diving deep into the world of online dating and catfishing. Anna Akbari’s part memoir, part detective story reveals the shocking truth about how easily one can be deceived online.

In 2011, three smart, successful women fell for Ethan Schuman, a man who seemed perfect but was hiding behind a facade of emotional lies. Each woman, caught up in his web, didn’t know about the others. His convincing excuses to avoid video calls and last-minute meetups were accepted because, after all, he wasn’t asking for money, so what could his motive to lie possibly be? Instead, Ethan sought to entangle these women in intensely intimate emotional bonds.

The book follows these women as they independently start noticing cracks in Ethan’s stories and eventually connect with each other to unravel a much bigger deceit. Together, they realize the web of deceit goes much further than they could have imagined and uncover dozens of other victims, showing just how deep and dark the world of catfishing can get. Akbari not only shares her personal ordeal but also paints a broader picture of modern relationships where digital interactions can easily distort reality.

Akbari’s narrative is engaging, pulling you right into the psychological and emotional rollercoaster of her experiences. The book starts with a deep dive into her relationship with Ethan, showing step-by-step how a catfish operates. The latter half feels like a detective story, as the women piece together who Ethan really is.

The book does a great job of showing that anyone can fall prey to such deceit, challenging the stereotype that only the naive get tricked. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of keeping your guard up when forming connections online.

While the book is a gripping read, it could have probed deeper into Ethan’s motivations, which remain somewhat mysterious. Also, the early parts with emails and messages might seem a bit scattered until you get the full picture of the situation.

"There Is No Ethan" is a must-read if you’re into true crime or interested in the psychological aspects of online relationships. It’s a stark warning about the realities of digital dating and the lengths some will go to exploit others. Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for the ARC—this was a captivating read!

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Absolutely page-turning. It took me a little while to get into it because reading other people's chats and verbose flirty conversations was a bit weird, but once it got going it is just unbelievable. This is such an interesting story, covering as it does a time before ubiquitous video chatting and social media like it is now. I remember it so well but I think it will seem completely foreign to younger readers. The author thoroughly explains how things were and why she and the other women behaved as they did.

The implications of the person behind the scam are extremely disturbing. I don't even know what to think. Really well written and candid, and I hope will make other people who have experienced similar feel less embarrassed and alone.

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Man oh man did this story fill me with rage. I found myself boiling…. No, simmering with anger. Unfortunately catfishing is a real thing and happens all of the time. We can thank the lovely internet for that.

Ethan meets three different women online at different times. He starts to court them. Considering he is highly intelligent and quite the charmer, it becomes clear that they want to meet him. I really can’t give you any more details but I’m sure you have an idea. I mean, everyone has seen the movie Catfish or the series at least right? Highly addictive but terribly disturbing.

Why on earth would you continue to talk to someone and invest your whole time and energy if they refuse to talk on the phone or video chat? Hello! Your first clue is THEY ARE HIDING SOMETHING! Period! However, this book delves deep into the loneliness these women experience. There was always something niggling at them to know the truth. Why would someone spend years invested in a relationship that is just not tangible? EVER!

Now, I will share my own personal experience in the age of Love@AOL. In the year 2000 I had been talking to a guy online that was absolutely gorgeous. We messaged almost nightly. Flirted intensely. I started to like this guy y’all. Well, I was flying up to Detroit to visit my brother. This man lived in St Louis, MO. I got a layover in St. Louis just so I could meet him face to face. Listen when I tell you that I stood in that airport waiting for him to walk up to only never appear. Yep. That’s my story. He disappeared. Probably married or whatever, but it taught me a little lesson. Just remember that anyone can be anybody they want through a screen.

I thought the author’s writing was excellent. She goes into great lengths to share each woman’s experience and how Ethan wrecked their lives forever. His manipulations and the control he had over them was baffling. I finished this is one day. Highly recommend if you enjoy investigative stories.
Thanks so much @grandcentralpub @NetGalley and Anna Akbari for the opportunity.
Publication date June 4, 2024

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It’s 2010, and Anna meets Ethan Schuman online via OKCupid. They have an instant connection and spends hours texting and messaging each other online. They set up a time to go on a date, but Ethan cancels. And so goes the rest of the story with Anna and Ethan. He won’t talk on the phone, he won’t Skype video, and he won’t meet up in person. Something always comes up. Anna is suspicious and reaches out to a few other women that she realizes Ethan had dated in the past. At this point, the women realize they are being conned. Ethan is not a real person. But who is he?

This is a quick and engaging read. I was invested in finding out who Ethan is, and you do find out. This is a crazy story about an online catfisher. I’m glad the women exposed Ethan.

Thank you to Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for the ARC of this book.

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**do not look up the author or the ending before reading it- because figuring it all out as the author does is the way to do it

I love a good catfish story and this one did not disappoint. As someone who has never online dated it is easy for me to hear stories of people being catfished and think "how in the world did you not know what was happening?" This book brought so much insight into how/why people often stay in these relationships despite never seeing the person they are dating in real life.

This story follows Anna, British Anna, and Gina as they each fall in love with a man they met online named Ethan. (About 50% of the book is Anna's story, followed by 10% each British Anna and Gina's story, and the last 30% the discovery of Ethan and where everything ended). He gives them empty promises of meeting in person and these womens heart are just strung along the emotional rollercoaster in the process. I loved hearing each womens story and how they came to find out and question that Ethan may not be all that he seems. Thats all that I'll say because when you uncover the real truth it is honestly shocking.

This book is set to release June 4, 2024. Thank you to Grand Central Publishing and the author for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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This was a really interesting concept and I’ve never heard from this case before. It was really well done and thought it was a fantastic concept. Anna Akbari tells this true crime element perfectly and thought it worked in keeping me reading.

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This book pisses me off. I’m grateful that it was written, but it makes me so angry and that the laws are so behind the crimes. These women were horribly abused and received no justice.

I hesitated requesting this one because she was a sociologist, I didn’t think Anna was someone who would be easily catfished. I requested it anyway thinking it would be an interesting read. I was wrong, it was a great read. My heart breaks for British Anna. It’s a book that examines everything, even when the answers aren’t there.

I highly recommend this to everyone. This kind of thing can happen anywhere online, it’s not always dating sites.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC, but all opinions are my own.

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I could not put this book down! I became so invested in Anna's experience. I, too, have played the online dating game, and while I have not been catfished (to my knowledge, at least), I often wonder if the person on the other end of the chat is really who they seem. Maybe that's why I don't participate in it anymore. I like knowing what I'm getting into. (I am also very impatient and thus unlikely to keep up a conversation with someone who never materializes). Not that I'm trying to say anything against these amazing women! This is an amazing analysis of how people respond to words and emotions. I'm in awe of Anna and how she was able to turn the tables on ES. I sincerely hope this person is brought to justice eventually, but I'm a huge believer in karma... and I hope they get theirs soon.
Highly recommend this one!!

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Okay this was wild. I was so enthralled for the first half which dives into the conversations the author has with "Ethan." Reading about the three women confronting this catfish to get her to admit she was Ethan was intense. I really enjoyed this overall, it was like the best episode of Catfish.

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This is an absolutely riveting thriller of a non-fiction work, told mainly from the perspective of the author – "American" Anna, if you will – as she works to put together the pieces of an online suitor who has worked diligently to get under her skin and into her life, all without ever appearing before her physically (on Skype, in person, or even on the phone). At first, you'll wonder how anyone could ever fall prey to such a seemingly simple catfish; before long, you'll realize how easily you, too, could have slipped into the waters of "Ethan" and the allure and intelligence of the emotional rollercoaster that follows.

I read this entire book in one sitting, and had to stay up past my usual bedtime to "race" to the finish. Anna is such a compelling writer, and her sociology background makes the case of Ethan and his wide web of misdeeds not so much scientific as sprawling, deep, and mesmerizing.

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The author was Sociology professor in her early thirties when she joined an online dating community and met “Ethan.” They connected very quickly and began to communicate digitally almost continuously day and night. Over the course of four months, the author and “Ethan” developed an intense relationship, however, whenever Anna attempted to set up a meeting in-person or over the phone, something always came up. Eventually Anna became suspicious and began to ask around about “Ethan” which is when she discovered the other Anna, based in London, who carried on her own years long online relationship with “Ethan” and then there was Gina, also involved online with “Ethan.” The three women decided to work together to discover if “Ethan” really existed and if not, then who was the person that they were in a relationship with. This book does eventually give all the facts, including a name, and a little googling will SHOCK you. This is such an interesting story and character study. There are so many interesting facets of this book to explore and the psychology of the entire situation is fascinating. I will say that the first 40-50% of the book is mainly transcripts of the chats between the women and “Ethan” which gets old (and cringey), however, by the end I do see how reading all of the conversations adds to the overall arc of the entire true story. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

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It's a wild ride! The author relays the terrifying and true story of being Catfished while online dating - a crazy journey crossing continents, spanning years and, through the intrepid and persistent courage of a group of intelligent, strong and resilient women, results in the exposure of "Ethan". I'm not the first reviewer to say it but don't look this story or it's main players up ahead of time, wait for the end of the book, it's worth it.
Anna Akbari deals with difficult and very personal subject manner with authenticity, insight and grace while unflinchingly examining her own thoughts and motivations throughout. "There is no Ethan" is well written, thought provoking and an engrossing read; recommend to everyone, regardless of online dating history, there's something here for everyone.

Thank you to the Publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this eARC in exchange for an honest review

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