“Milanes has created authentic characters with family issues that reflect the world we live in...Refreshing.” —The New York Times Book Review “Heartfelt and smart.” —Lilliam Rivera, author of The Education of Margot Sanchez “Funny and affecting, well-balanced, and simply fun.” —Kirkus Reviews “An entertaining novel for all teen collections.” —School Library Journal
A Cuban-American teen navigates social anxiety, her father’s remarriage, and being torn between two very cute boys in this “genuine and humorous” (Booklist) contemporary novel—perfect for fans of Morgan Matson and Kasie West.
Ever since her mom died three years ago, Analee Echevarria has had trouble saying out loud the weird thoughts that sit in her head. With a best friend who hates her and a dad who’s marrying a yogi she can’t stand, Analee spends most of her time avoiding reality and role-playing as Kiri, the night elf hunter at the center of her favorite online game.
Through Kiri, Analee is able to express everything real-life Analee cannot: her bravery, her strength, her inner warrior. The one thing both Kiri and Analee can’t do, though, is work up the nerve to confess her romantic feelings for Kiri’s partner-in-crime, Xolkar—a.k.a. a teen boy named Harris whom Analee has never actually met in person.
So when high school heartthrob Seb Matias asks Analee to pose as his girlfriend in an attempt to make his ex jealous, Analee agrees. Sure, Seb seems kind of obnoxious, but Analee could use some practice connecting with people in real life. In fact, it’d maybe even help her with Harris.
But the more Seb tries to coax Analee out of her comfort zone, the more she starts to wonder if her anxious, invisible self is even ready for the real world. Can Analee figure it all out without losing herself in the process?
CHAPTER ONE THE NIGHT IS QUIET AND still, with only the soft sounds of our feet padding along the grass. Xolkar and I hasten toward the rickety old barn in the distance. A growl interrupts the stillness as a creature—half ghost, half skeleton—descends upon us, swiping his long, bony fingers in our direction.
I have it, I tell Xolkar, quickly ducking out of harm’s way. The creature, not all that bright, wallops the air periodically until I’m up again. I plunge my sword into his rib cage. The ghost-skeleton-thing vanishes quickly in a puff of smoke, inflicting little damage on me. I am a skilled night elf hunter and Xolkar’s protector on this quest. His only job is to guard the ampule, which is our key to victory.
The worgen’s coming up, Xolkar warns as we enter the barn.
Don’t worry, I tell him with an assuredness that comes easy to me in this world. We got this.
The barn is dimly lit, and piles of animal bones are strewed across the floor. The worgen doesn’t wait long, announcing himself with a mighty roar and appearing, large and looming, in front of us. I’m the size of his leg, but I’m ready, weapons clenched, fixed in my battle stance. I fear nothing, for I am—
“Analee?” my dad’s girlfriend, Harlow, calls through my bedroom door. “Dinner’s ready!”
In the six months we’ve lived together, she still hasn’t learned to pronounce my name right. It sounds wrong coming out of her mouth, too nasally. It makes me think of apple pie and cornfields and other things I’m not.
“I’ll be down in a minute!” I call back.
I blame my dad, mostly. He’s the one who decided I should be given my great-grandmother’s name despite the fact that no one at my school would be able to pronounce it the Spanish way. Imagine having to sound it out for every single new teacher (ah-nah-LEE, by the way) every single school year, when inevitably your classmates will resort to calling you “anally” anyway. That’ll give you a snapshot of my problems.
I am not Analee. I am Kiri the night elf. And I fear nothing—not monsters, not goblins, not people.
I feel Harlow hesitate by the door before she says, “Your dad says right now. Sorry.”
The worgen takes this opportunity to deliver blow upon blow. Each weakens me, seeps the life out of me until I collapse in a heap on the ground.
“Crap,” I mutter. And I’m dead. The ghost of Kiri floats to the nearest graveyard.
What happened? Xolkar, who in real life is known as Harris, asks over the computer. We’ll have to start the whole quest over.
Harlow, I type. My hands slide off the keyboard.
Dinner is fancy tonight. There are candles involved, and Harlow is using her hand-painted china set. For once, her eight-year-old daughter, Avery, is not allowed to use her phone at the table. Dad stops me when I try to turn on the TV, even though I always watch it during dinner.
“No TV,” he says.
“What?” I ask. “Like, forever?” I hate eating without TV, because I’m way too aware of my chewing volume, and Harlow feels the need to fill the silence by asking me embarrassing questions about my love life, or lack thereof.
“Just for tonight,” Dad replies.
Harlow is a raw-food fanatic. Tonight she has made us sprouted lentils with tomato and cashew cheese. She acts like this is satisfying, but once I caught her in the kitchen plowing into a bag of peanut butter cups. It was one of the rare moments when I witnessed Harlow being human.
“The table looks beautiful, Raf,” Harlow says to Dad, taking a seat next to him. I assume that by “beautiful” she’s referring to the fact that Dad put out the place mats.
“Thank you, mi cielo.” Dad takes Harlow’s hand and kisses the skin between her fingers. Gross. They’re even more lovey-dovey than usual. Once, I overheard Harlow on the phone with her friend, and she said my dad spoke to her in Spanish whenever they had sex. I tasted vomit in my mouth for two straight days after that tidbit.
Without the TV on, you can hear all the ugly sounds of people eating. Every cough, every scrape of utensils against plates, every clink of ice cubes.
“Well,” I say. “This is new.”
“What?” Dad asks. He’s trying to eat and hold Harlow’s hand at the same time, which seems highly impractical to me.
“This whole . . .” I motion around the table with my fork. “Arrangement.”
“I think it’s nice to eat like this,” Harlow says. “Like a family.”
“Don’t get me wrong; it’s very wholesome and all. I’m just wondering why.”
I wait for Harlow to tell me that she read about it in one of the family life blogs she follows. They all have cutesy alliterative names, like The Garrison Gang or The Cooper Crew. And the families are super-white, like Harlow is, with skin the color of cottage cheese.
She doesn’t mention a blog, though. She looks at Dad, and Dad lets go of her hand. That’s when I get the feeling that something horrible is about to happen, more horrible than a worgen trying to eat my face off.
“You want to tell them?” Harlow murmurs.
Dad smiles. “You can do it.”
“Are you sure?”
Okay, this isn’t cute anymore.
“Mom, just tell us!” Avery explodes.
Harlow looks at the two of us with her fixed placid smile.
“Girls,” she says, “your dad and I . . . we’re getting married.”
Avery shrieks. Dad beams. I take a bite of lentils.
Somehow, on the outside, I manage to maintain my composure. The inner me is screaming, throwing paintings off the walls, shattering hand-painted china. Dad and Harlow have known each other for a total of eleven months. ELEVEN MONTHS. Their relationship is barely the equivalent of a human toddler.
It’s absurd. It’s too fast. It’s . . . wrong. Dad and Harlow don’t go together. She belongs with the type of guy who wears a man bun and is self-employed and visits ashrams to rediscover himself. Not Rafael Echevarria, insurance salesman.
It doesn’t matter. There’s no way this wedding is going to happen. Since Mom died, Dad has plunged headfirst into this relationship without thinking things through. It goes against his risk-averse nature as an insurance salesman. Enter Harlow, and every one of his rules for sane living has gone out the window.
I am fully confident that this fling with Harlow is an existential crisis and one day soon his brain will start to work again. They’ll have a long engagement until Dad comes to his senses. Or until Harlow meets her true kumbaya-chanting soul mate.
See, I like Harlow enough as a person. I just don’t want her in my life anymore.
“How many people are you inviting?” Avery asks. “Can I invite Isla?”
“It won’t be a big wedding,” Harlow says. “Maybe fifty people or so?”
“Fifty?” I repeat. The panic bubbles in my belly. “Did you say ‘fifty’? Or ‘fifteen’?”
“Are you wearing a white dress?” Avery asks. “Do Analee and I get matching dresses? Are we in the bridal party?”
Harlow wraps her toned arms around Avery and kisses the top of her head. “You two are the bridal party.”
“Fifty or fifteen?” I ask again.
“How about a congratulations?” Dad lowers his chin and gives me the stare. He uses it when I’m in panic mode and I forget to behave like a normal person. Which is a lot of the time.
“Congratulations,” I echo with what little feeling I can muster. “And when will this joyous occasion take place?”
“Three months,” Harlow says, beaming.
Seriously, fuck my life.
Harlow gets up to give me a kiss too, but my brain is too busy to let the rest of my body respond. I hate the thought of Dad and Harlow’s impending marriage, but the wedding itself is doomed to be a nightmare.
The ceremony will be all eyes on me walking down the aisle. I’m picturing myself wobbling in high heels in front of Harlow’s perfect friends, and then I’m picturing myself falling in high heels in front of Harlow’s perfect friends.
There’s also the reception, where I’ll have to dance. I don’t know how to dance at all, especially when it comes to my arms. I don’t know whether I should lift them up or keep them at my sides, but isn’t it too stiff if I keep them near my sides? Why do weddings and dancing go hand in hand? Why do you have to jerk your body around in rhythm to demonstrate happiness? Also, I won’t have anyone to dance with, so I’ll just be Harlow’s pathetic ugly stepdaughter who sits alone in a corner while the bride and groom feed each other vegan, gluten-free cake.
“Analee, I do have a small favor to ask of you,” Harlow says, back at her seat.
I say nothing. I’m not sure what is about to come out of her mouth, but I know that doing a favor for Harlow won’t amount to anything good.
“I would be really happy if you would be my maid of honor.”
Dad’s purposely staring down at his plate because he knows, he knows, this is too much to ask. This is Harlow’s idea, and he went along with it because he’ll do whatever she wants. That’s how desperate he is for the stupid piece of paper that will tell him he legally has her.
“I, um . . .” I can’t think of a polite way to let her down. It’s hard to say no to Harlow when she’s looking at you with those big eyes that are not quite blue and not quite green. Avery has a matching set, but I have my mom’s eyes, shiny and black.
“It would really mean a lot,” Harlow says. “I was hoping maybe you could write something for the occasion. Your writing is so beautiful and honest—”
“Can I think about it?” I interrupt. I need to buy time so that I can figure out a reason to say no.
“Of course,” she says. She scoops a pile of mushy lentils onto her fork and feeds Dad like he’s a baby bird. He opens his mouth and takes a bite, barely hiding a grimace. This is the curse that Dad has passed on to me. The inability to say no to people, especially to people like Harlow who always expect a yes.
Janelle Milanes is the author of The Victoria in My Head and Analee, in Real Life. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two cats. Her favorite Disney princess is Belle, since she was also a big book nerd.
“Janelle Milanes has a rare gift for capturing the tenuous thread of friendships. Heartfelt and smart, you will root for and fall in love with Analee, in Real Life.” —Lilliam Rivera, author of The Education of Margot Sanchez
“Funny and affecting, well-balanced, and simply fun.” —Kirkus Reviews
“An entertaining novel for all teen collections.” —School Library Journal