Title: Analee, In Real Life
Author: Janelle Milanes
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: eARC received from publisher
Availability: September 18, 2018
Summary: 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—aka 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?
Review: (Please note that this book includes brief, non-graphic descriptions of sexual assault. Analee also deals with a lot of body-related self-esteem issues, including unfavorably comparing her body to that of her stepmother, and there are several passages of diet/health fad talk, where she is often disdainful of her future stepmother’s eating habits.)
Since I enjoyed Janelle Milanes’s previous novel, The Victoria in My Head, I was excited to see she had another book out this year, once again starring a Cuban-American teenage girl. I’m happy to say that Analee, In Real Life lived up to my expectations.
One of the things I appreciated most about this book is how it focused on Analee and her self-esteem and self-perception. Her romantic plots with Seb and Harris were supporting roles for her personal journey. Analee has a lot to deal with, from the death of her mother, her father’s impending remarriage, and the broken relationship with her best friend, and early on she spends much of her time trying to escape or avoid conflict in her day-to-day life. The slow, steady growth of her character throughout the book is a delight.
Analee’s fake relationship with Seb and her undefined-online relationship with Harris are interesting foils for each other. Both boys allow Analee to experience different upsides—and downsides—of relationships, including the push and pull of expectations versus reality. In this, Seb is the stronger character, though I appreciated what Harris represented to Analee despite wishing for more screen time with his character. Milanes did a great job throughout the novel of showing the messiness of feelings and—most importantly to me—rejecting the idea that romance with The One will magically “fix” everything that’s difficult or wrong in a person’s life. For those reasons, I was particularly happy with the ending of this book, though I’m sure others will disagree with me.
Analee’s conflicts with her father, soon-to-be stepmother, and soon-to-be stepsister were frequently just as—if not more—interesting as her romance plots. I haven’t read many YA novels where the protagonist has a blended family, and Analee’s attempts to navigate all these relationships with the memory of her mother always lurking in the background were thought-provoking and honest. There are ugly feelings and sudden empathy and grief galore, and I appreciated Analee’s snark and anger as much as her softer moments. I was particularly happy that Milanes included parenting conflicts over dating philosophies alongside the more heartwarming moments of unity.
Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if fake dating is your thing. The true heart of Analee, In Real Life is not the romantic shenanigans, but rather Analee’s emotional journey. While there are some occasional missteps and moments I wish had worked out differently, Analee, In Real Life is a solid contemporary book.