Offline, Madison Nakama’s life is difficult, at best. First, there’s the mother who randomly leaves to jet halfway across the world for new teaching jobs, leaving her family in shambles without remorse. Then, there’s her father, Charles: the famous writer, whose entire focus in life revolves around keeping their family’s reputation scot-free and away from the careful scrutiny of his conservative readers. Last, there’s Sarah: Madison’s younger sister, who depends on her to keep a strict routine, as well as acting as Sarah’s primary caretaker.
Online, however, things are easy: Madison becomes Madi, creator and owner of the famous pop culture blog MadLibs, where she attracts countless followers and carries on intimate online friendships. When she finds out that her friend Lauren is actually Laurent, a cute French exchange student, Madi is drawn out of her shell and into a whirlwind online romance.
Everything becomes a disaster when a troll strikes MadLibs, and Madi’s life is thrown upside down as her blog, her school life, and even her own family are put to stake. How far will the hacker go, and can Madi ever clean up the mess in his wake?
Let me start off by saying that the synopsis of this book is absolutely precious. When I read it, I knew I had to have it. As someone who’s been on the internet most (almost all) of my life, I’ve had my own fair share of online romances, and I’ve undergone my fair share of trolling, as well. I love the idea of such a modern love story: girl meets boy online, girl falls for boy online, etc. This book handles that concept delightfully. There are text message exchanges, tweets, tumblr reblogs, and even Snapchat dates. The formatting is just fantastic, and I am such a sucker for these kinds of things.
That said, the writing and the way the story unfolds needs a little work. I found that the writing itself felt young, as did Madi (well, more so than I expect when thinking of high school seniors). Her interactions with Sarah were the most difficult to read. Sarah is on the Autism spectrum, and routine is very key for her. Despite the fact that we are frequently reminded by Madi that Sarah’s routine MUST NOT BE INTERRUPTED, Madi herself interrupts that schedule a few times with little to no repercussions or guilt. More than once, my heart ached a little for how devastated Sarah was, but Madi seemed disconnected from it. While I’m sure that this was a realistic portrayal for many people who have autistic siblings that they primarily take care of, it did bother me, but I didn’t take points off for the rawness.
Madi and Sarah’s parents, on the other hand, were infuriating. We are introduced right into the realization that their mother is leaving the country in a few days, with no warning at all, to take up a temporary teaching job at Oxford University. She has no concern about her children at all, citing over and over again that the girls need to “grow up”. Charles, their father, seems equally unruffled, though we are told that this is a ruse to hide his inner turmoil. Façade or no, Charles needs to get off of his ass and take care of his daughters, instead of hiding behind his laptop 24/7. I raged!
As far as the romance of the book goes, it’s adorable and cheesy (usually in a good way), but Laurent feels like such an overdone character from the moment we meet him. He’s incredibly kind, honest, hot, well-dressed, intelligent, artistic, and French. He has no flaws that we ever become aware of, and Madi’s interactions with him in the first half or so of the book feel like a star-struck schoolgirl with a crush, which is painfully awkward at times.
The troll is the dramatic antagonist of the book, and he plays the part of the typical misogynistic, bratty, “friend zoned” teen boy to the bitter end, complete with remarks about “SJWs” and “stupid feminists”. It was a realistic enough portrayal of many guys that I’ve met over the years, so that was worthy of a few laughs and eye rolls. Madi’s reactions to him are a bit tiring, though. She constantly fusses at her friends if they stick up for her – as true friends are wont to do – but she can’t let the troll peep so much as an emoji at her without an over-the-top, angsty reply (and a threat to block him – in almost every response).
All in all, while the book didn’t pass with flying colors for me, each aspect still had something enjoyable to it. My favorite part of the book was the representation of Sarah’s disorder, which never felt like it was being used as a crutch. As someone with a loved one on the spectrum, I was relieved to see that Sarah’s “otherness” was addressed, yet not exacerbated by the narrative. The author’s note said that Danika herself has a special needs son and works with special needs children in the school system, and I felt like that was very evident in how honestly she portrayed Sarah’s disorder – so I’d like to offer a huge thank you to Danika for that.
While I’m not sure that I would rush to read this one again, I will say that it made for a pretty enjoyable way to spend an evening. There are a few risqué comments, but nothing over the top, so I would feel comfortable recommending this to younger teens. Any young, geeky girl would be able to relate to Madi’s love for the internet and pop culture, as well as the frustrations Madi faces as a woman on the internet. As far as older teens and adults go, I would probably only recommend this if you genuinely enjoy cheesy and fluffy contemporaries.
Note: I was sent this ebook from the publicist in exchange for an honest review, but my thoughts are 100% my own!