Author: Danika Stone
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Can an online romance survive in real life?
Internet sensation Madison Nakama has it all! Her pop-culture rewatch site has a massive following, and fans across the world wait on her every post and tweet. Even Madi’s dismal romantic life seems ready to take off as Laurent, a fellow geek (and unfairly HOT French exchange student!) starts flirting with her in the comments section of her blog. But Laurent’s not the only one watching for Madi’s replies.
Internet fame has a price, and their online romance sparks the unwanted attention of a troll. When Madi’s “real life” hits a rough patch, she feels her whole world crumbling. With Laurent’s support, can Madi rally her friends across the globe to beat the troll, or will he succeed in driving her away from everything―and everyone―she loves?
The crowd outside the Metrograph was visible a block away. Knots of people milled around the entrance, most of the wearing t-shirts that Madi herself had designed. MadLibbing for the PEOPLE! one announced. It Madders because YOU say it does! quipped another.
“Oh my God,” Madi moaned. “Who are all these people?”
Laurent bumped her with his elbow. “Your fans, of course.”
“My fans?” Madi’s feet slowed. There were too many—far too many!—and she had no idea how she was supposed to act. This was completely different than online chatter. And any skills she’d once had with face-to-face interaction had long since faded. Dread filled her gut.
“C’mon,” Laurent said. “I have a few people I want you to meet. The friends I hang out with.”
“I guess that sounds alright.”
“Great! Come on!”
He walked toward a small group lounging near the alley on the far side of the street, half a block down. One girl had messy blond hair and an angry scowl, the kind of person Madi’d avoid on any other day. Beside her stood a beaming teen, braces flashing. Her pink tee-shirt announced “Mad for MadLibs”. She reminded Madi of an extra from the Disney channel.
The angry-looking girl glanced up, catching Madi’s eyes. She scowled for the count of three, then her gaze shifted upward. Her expression backflipped into joy.
“Laurent!” she shouted. “You came!”
He strode forward, leaving Madi struggling to keep up. “I told you I’d be here.”
“So what happened to MadLibs? I thought you were heading to Penn Station to get her.”
“I was—I did!” Laurent reached out, touching Madi’s shoulder. “She’s here. This is Madi!”
Madi waved nervously as all eyes turned on her. “Hiiiiiii...”
The Disney girl’s eyes were so big they looked like they were going to pop. “You’re her! You’re actually HER! You’re Madi. Like the actual, real to life, in the flesh—”
The other girl stared at Madi with a look that reminded her all too much of the popular crowd at Millburn Academy. After a long moment she reached out a hand. “So we finally get to meet the infamous ‘Madlib’.”
“Just Madi, thanks.”
Laurent nodded to the other teen. “And this is Chantal,” he said smoothly. “She was going to pick you up, but I beat her to it.”
“It’s so weird to actually meet you,” Chantal gasped, her hand to her chest. “I have so many questions! I just—I can’t—” She let out a high-pitched giggle. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you forever.”
“Thanks,” Madi said. “It’s good to be here.” She peeked over at Laurent who hadn’t stopped grinning since they’d arrived.
Ava shook her head. “I still can’t believe you’re actually here. I mean it just seems... weird or something.”
She shrugged. “Aren’t you like a bonefide recluse or something? I mean no one’s actually met you, before today.”
Chantal grabbed Madi’s hand. “But you’re MadLibs—Madi! And you’re here—with us—for real!” She laughed aloud. “That’s crazy!”
Madi smiled. “Thanks.”
“I’m so glad you came,” Chantal said. “I have so much to ask you.”
“Like you write the MadLib blog for a living, right?”
“Gainfully funemployed,” Madi said. Laurent chuckled at the joke and she felt her cheeks warm. Play it cool Nakama! She forced herself to focus on the two young women. “So how about you two?”
“What about us?” Ava asked.
“What do you guys do?”
“Art program.” Ava glanced at Laurent as if sharing some secret and then back to Madi.
“Though I prefer painting. Not main stream crap. Real art.”
“And I’m in high school,” Chantal added, still grinning.
“I hated high school,” Madi said. “Absolutely loathed it!”
“God, me too,” Ava said. “So glad to be in college now.”
“I haven’t graduated yet,” Madi admitted. “I take online classes.”
Laurent laughed. “I don’t think I’d be able to focus long enough to finish anything. Way too many distractions on the internet.”
“That’s how regular classes were for me,” Madi said. “I just kind of zoned out.”
“I can’t believe your parents let you do online school,” Chantal said with a wistful sigh. “It sounds amazing. So does it work the same as a regular high school?”
“Well, yes and no.” Madi grinned. Now that the shock had passed, she was starting to feel like herself again. Perhaps real life interactions weren’t so bad. “Millburn Academy is a private school,” Madi said. “It has both regular classes and online courses. Taking my whole diploma through OMA was sort of my idea.”
“My parents are pretty busy most nights, so I convinced them I’d help out more with my younger sister, if I could do online classes.” She shrugged. “I drop her off and pick her up after school, stuff like that. Seemed like a good trade.”
Ava looked skeptical. “And your parents were okay with that?”
“Eventually. They told me I could do OMA, but only for one semester, and only if I proved I could keep my marks up. So I spent all my time studying that first semester and... BAM!” She clapped her hands. “I was on the honor roll.”
“I barely slide by at the best of times,” Ava snorted.
“Ah, but you’re a badass,” Laurent said. “And that makes up for it.” Madi wasn’t sure why his comment to Ava irked her, but she soon forgot when he turned his attention back to her.
“The honor roll is really cool, Madi. That takes a lot of work. Kudos to you.”
“It’s not as awesome as you’d think,” she said. “I’ve had to keep up those marks ever since.” She dropped her voice in imitation of her father. “You’ve got potential Madi. You can’t waste that. I expect A’s from now on.”
“Oh no,” Chantal groaned. “Like for every class? And you’ve got to write your MadLibs blog, too?”
“How do you manage?”
“I dunno,” Madi said with a laugh. “I just do. The blog is fun. School is work.”
One corner of Laurent’s lips curled up into a lop-sided grin. “Aha! You set the bar,” he said. “Now you’re dealing with the consequences. You’re a victim of your own success.”
“Something like that,” Madi said. “But that’s not the half of it. My dad’s a journalist and my
mom’s a professor of microbiology, so there’s all this pressure to follow in their footsteps...”
If Madi had been worried before meeting Laurent’s friends when she arrived, those fears were gone. Even Ava seemed to have toned back the attitude. The MadLibbers were the perfect reflection of why she loved online friendships. Chantal, AKA @WrittenInChantalics, was the ingénue of the group. Ava, AKA @ArtWithAttitude, the rebel. And Laurent, AKA @laurentabelard, was everyone’s leading man. Madi peeked over at him: the unkempt hair brushing his collar, his aesthetic balanced between European fashion and grad-student poverty. Damnit! Some people have all the cards. It was like he’d been plucked right out of a romantic comedy.
As if sensing her watching, Laurent looked up and smiled, golden eyes sparkling. Madi looked away. Too perfect, she thought. There’s got to be a chink in the armor. But if there was, she had yet to find it.
“We should probably head to the Metrograph,” Laurent said. “It’s going to be busy and I want seats together.” Across the street, the crowds were starting to disappear through the entrance. “You ready to go?”
A twinge of fear flickered in Madi’s stomach, but she ignored it. “Sure.”
Chantal moved in next to Madi as the group headed down the street. “Have you decided yet?” she asked breathlessly.
“What your next MadLib topic is! I could hardly sleep last night, I was so excited about it!”
Madi peeked over to find Chantal grinning. “I um... I kind of—”
“Is it hard to choose?”
“Sometimes, I guess. Especially if I have two I really like.”
“So how do you decide?” Chantal asked as they reached a street light and stopped, waiting for the walk signal. “How do you make the call?”
“Mostly it’s based on votes,” Madi said.
Ava smirked. “Do you ever cheat?” she teased.
“I swear we won’t tell,” Chantal added.
“Never needed to,” Madi said. “I’m pretty good at guessing what people will choose.”
“Do you know what this one will be?” Laurent asked.
“I’m hoping for Star Wars myself,” Chantal said. “That or Buffy.”
“Buffy is fantastic,” Ava said fiercely. “I’m fighting for that one. You’ve got to choose it. Alright, Madi?”
“It’s up to the fans.”
“But we’re fans!” Chantal pleaded. “That counts for something, doesn’t it?!”
“Can’t we, like, bribe you or something?” Ava said dryly. “Buffy needs a rewatch.”
“Star Wars would be better!” Chantal argued.
“You haven’t even SEEN Buffy, yet!” Ava snapped. “How would you even know?”
“I’ll read whatever Madi blogs about.” Laurent said. “I’m all about the experience.”
“The experience?” Ava scoffed. “That sounds dirty, you naughty boy.” Madi fought the urge to defend him as Laurent’s cheeks flushed and he looked away.
“Not at all!” he said. “I came to America to be immersed—and popular culture is part of it.”
“I know, I know,” Ava said.
“But I do like eighties movies. They’re very... optimistic.”
Everyone laughed. Up ahead, the entrance to the Metrograph Theater was nearly clear of people. Madi sighed in relief. By the time they arrived, she would be able to come inside unseen. Irritated, Ava paced back and forth on the sidewalk, waiting for the light to change.
“I’m so excited for this new MadLibs,” Chantal said. “And that you’re here with us!”
“Only if we get seats in time,” Ava grumbled.
“It’ll be fine,” Laurent said. “Relax.”
Ava swore under her breath.
“The light’s going to change. Just give it a minute to—”
Ava darted out into traffic without warning. Chantal shrieked.
“Metrograph’s going to be packed,” Ava shouted as horns blared. “I’ll grab us places to sit. You catch up!”
They watched as she sprinted down the street and disappeared through the theater’s entrance.
“Only Ava,” Chantal giggled.
A minute later, the light changed and they crossed. Laurent dropped back, coming around behind them to fall into step at Madi’s side. She bit the inside of her cheeks to keep from grinning.
“You know, Laurent,” Madi said, “if eighties movies are your thing, you should go for it. I’m happy with whatever. But be warned: Brian’s determined to bring a Science Fiction renaissance to MadLibs. He and a few other people are promoting faves. Star Wars might take it.” She bumped him with her shoulder as they walk. “You should promote, too.”
Laurent smiled down at her. “Maybe I will.”
She nodded. “Good.”
Danika Stone is an author, artist, and educator who discovered a passion for writing fiction while in the throes of her Masters thesis. A self-declared bibliophile, Danika now writes novels for both adults (The Intaglio Series and Ctrl Z) and teens (Icarus and All the Feels). When not writing, Danika can be found hiking in the Rockies, planning grand adventures, and spending far too much time online. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a houseful of imaginary characters in a windy corner of Alberta, Canada.
The first book in Danika’s upcoming Tathagata series (Edge of Wild) was selected as a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award (2013). Edge of Wild (Stonehouse CA) will be released March 2016. Danika’s YA novel, All the Feels (Macmillan US), will be released June 2016.
Ms. Stone is represented by Morty Mint of Mint Literary Agency.