Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes
Title: Analee in Real Life
Author: Janelle Milanes
Genre: YA Contemporary
Topics: Social Anxiety, online vs IRL
Triggers: Losing a parent
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publishing Year: 2018
Format Read: Hardcover (Library)
My Rating: 4/5
I will admit that when I started this book I was expecting and wanting a teen Rom-Com having just come of watching (and loving) To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix. Add in two Latinx leads and a nerdy MMORPG playing heroine and I was hitting that “hold” button faster than you could say “Hell Yes!”. Needless to say I was super excited when the hold came in. What surprised me was how surprised I was at the end (in a good way). Analee in Real Life takes various contemporary YA tropes and gives it a unique twist that left me a little bit in awe of Milanes plotting and willingness to subvert expectations. If you are looking for both a great contemporary YA novel that touches upon family, friendship and love and gives you a genre bending end, add this one to your list!
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?
If you’ve followed the blog or the ‘gram for a while you might know two things about me: 1. I am a sucker for a good rom-com and 2. I am a huge nerd. So obviously you can guess how excited I was to read something that combines these two elements. Analee in Real Life does check all of these anticipated boxes Latinx protagonists in a teen rom-com, fake relationship, family and friend drama but not always in the ways or quantities you would expect which might disappoint a reader looking for a straight forwards contemporary teen romance (and it’s totally valid if you are) but which I found thought provoking and delightful.
Let me backtrack a little to explain: while Analee’s fake relationship with Seb in real life and her true crush on Harris online would seem to be the center focus of the plot given the blurb, they are auxiliaries to Analee’s inner and family turmoil which is revealed bit by bit. Analee starts off as a closed off character, unapproachable, and grumpy at times and straight up judgy and unlikeable at others. She finds it difficult to interact with people in real life, preferring her online haven and by making lists of her ‘rules’ as a way of coping with the many and often painful changes that life has thrown her way including her mother’s death from cancer, her falling out with her best friend and her father’s impending marriage to a yogi and blogger who seems to be her opposite in many ways (i.e. zen, blond, and thin). All of this and her own introverted nature culminates in Analee feeling like “It feels like at some point everyone got a manual to life, and I lost my copy” a feeling I know many of us can relate to.
Seb’s introduction into her life is the catalyst that propels Analee to explore the painful feelings that she has been locking away and make changes and take risks that she otherwise wouldn’t take like opening up to her future step sister, wearing a swimming suit, and making a public speech. Seb’s fake relationship with Analee allows her to work through her feelings in a truly heartwarming way that makes you cheer for Analee. At the sametime the book balances the mood with some hilarious rom-com moments, teen snark and Harry Potter references for the win.
My only real complaint about the book is a personal preference one and it has to do with the marketing and expectations I mentioned above. Part of the attraction for me was Analee’s nerdy, online side who spends hours online playing an MMORPG and who falls in love with her fellow guild member Harris. Given the role that her online persona fills as Analee’s ‘safe place’ I wish we had gotten a chance to see Analee’s online persona a little bit more. We get a snipped at the beginning and occasional online chats with Harris but not much more than that. I think this is more of my own personal longing to see a nerdy Latina on the page. The book is definitely more TATBILB than The Guild.
Analee in Real Life tackle so many issues that will feel true to anyone who has experienced life’s growing pains. We see Analee struggle as things that felt permanent and stable like a family unit or a BFF suddenly change and what she considered to be her rocks suddenly crumble. Analee’s character evolution as she learns to embrace her new circumstances, gain confidence and learn to open up again is one of the most real and rewarding character arcs that I have ready in a contemporary YA novel. The ending comes with a genre defying twist that readers might either love or not depending on their expectations. I won’t go into spoilery details but will say that the more I thought about it, the more I personally liked it and applaud Milanes for keeping readers on their toes.
Read if you like:
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before