by Mary H.K. Choi Published:
September 3, 2019 Buy on Amazon Add to Goodreads
From the New York Times bestselling author of Emergency Contact, which Rainbow Rowell called “smart and funny,” comes an unforgettable new romance about how social media influences relationships every day.
On paper, college dropout Pablo Rind doesn’t have a whole lot going for him. His graveyard shift at a twenty-four-hour deli in Brooklyn is a struggle. Plus, he’s up to his eyeballs in credit card debt. Never mind the state of his student loans.
Pop juggernaut Leanna Smart has enough social media followers to populate whole continents. The brand is unstoppable. She graduated from child stardom to become an international icon and her adult life is a queasy blur of private planes, step-and-repeats, aspirational hotel rooms, and strangers screaming for her just to notice them.
When Leanna and Pablo meet at 5:00 a.m. at the bodega in the dead of winter it’s absurd to think they’d be A Thing. But as they discover who they are, who they want to be, and how to defy the deafening expectations of everyone else, Lee and Pab turn to each other. Which, of course, is when things get properly complicated.
I double tap without hesitation. The gauntlet has unquestioningly been thrown. Let the record show I am game.
But for what?
For three full days I contemplate the futility of a DM slide while waffling maniacally as to whether or not I should leave a comment. I decide not to. I wish there were a field guide for this. Someone to ask about the rules. Quora, unsurprisingly, is unhelpful. That’s always an accurate gauge for desperation. If I’m on the Quora part of the Internet, it’s a cry for help.
In an effort to exert even a modicum of chill, I do absolutely nothing and writhe in self-loathing while being extra vigilant around the deli just in case she really does live in the area. The loserish feelings have reached a deafening, skin-crawling crescendo by the time she comes back.
Which she does.
Just like that.
Leanna Smart strolls into the store. This happens in a disembodying dreamscape slow motion. I’m basically Daredevil I’m delivered so much information at once. The way she smells (different from the perfume bearing her name), the way her head bobs when she speaks, her teeth. I can’t even explain how in the moment it feels impossible but entirely inevitable. Like the end of the world in certain mythology where everyone knows it’s coming but you don’t fully believe it until it arrives. Except of course this is different. It’s a beginning.
“Hey, Sad Boy,” Leanna Smart calls to me exactly eleven days after we met. Again at an ungodly hour.
I’m stunned as thousands of windows in the browser of my mind explode to play a manic GIF of me fist pumping the sky. I am jubilant. Triumphant. I am also tempted to poke through her cheek to make sure she’s not one of those freakish flight attendant holograms you get at the airport now.
This time she’s wearing an enormous puffer coat with a fur collar and sweats.
“Uh, hey,” I tell her. And then, “What’s up, Suarez?” Since calling her Leanna Smart feels insane. Like calling someone Mickey Mouse. Or Coca-Cola.
“You know,” she says. “I’ve eaten your food and huddled to you for warmth, but I don’t know your name.”
She smiles easily. As though we’re friends. As though we’ve been friends.
Me, I’m working on a delay. I’m stuck on her lips, the way they move. Her cheekbones. The hand brushing a strand of hair away from her forehead. Her short thumbs that make better big toes than fingers. Statistics fly through my head: 345,112,459—the number of times people have viewed Leanna Smart’s multi platinum single “Tower” from her bestselling fourth studio album Milestone. One hundred and forty-three million—Leanna Smart’s follower count across all social media platforms (rando bots notwithstanding). How her left eye’s slightly bigger than her right one. Sadder. Sadder? Yes, sadder. Slightly. And the voice, the voice, the voice. Deeper than you’d ever imagine. Gravelly. No, raspy. Textured. Tangible.
“I know ‘at Munchies Paradise’ isn’t your government name,” she says evenly. “Unless your parents are Frito-Lay industry plants and you’re the poster child for early-onset type 1 diabetes. Plus gout.”
She smiles at me, tilting her head in a way my mind recognizes as A Thing Leanna Smart Does from the hours of interview videos I’ve studied.
I remind myself to clear my browser history.
“Can you imagine?” I ask her coolly. My heart is thundering in my chest—spelunk, spelunk, spelunk—but I keep it together. “If that were what my parents ultimately wanted for my life? I’d have to tattoo junk food logos on my body like NASCAR patches.”
“That would be amazing,” she says. “Part SoundCloud rapper, part Nestlé ad.”
She approaches with her hand extended. “You can call me Lee,” she says, and I feel a warmth at the prospect of calling her anything since I thought for sure I would never see her again.
Lee. My mind furiously attempts to reconcile the syllable with building-size ads and the countless—so very many—photographs from every conceivable angle that I’ve absorbed. Lee. As in the title of the only-just-announced fifth studio album from one Leanna Smart. Allegedly the grown-up one. The . . .
Shit. Answer her.
“Pablo,” I tell her, taking her hand. It’s cold. I release it reluctantly. “And don’t think my parents did me any favors. Pablo Neruda’s my first name. Last name Rind.”
Usually I dread this. People who recognize the name ask me to recite something, as if to make them closer to a dead Chilean poet laureate. Then again, I’m happy that Leanna— Lee—knows who he is. Tons of people don’t.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Jesus. That’s emo.”
She’s not wrong.
“So, wait,” she says. “Do I call you Pablo Neruda as your full first name?”
“Nah. Pab’ll do.”
“Pab’ll it is.” She smiles goofily.
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August 30th – Rich in Color
August 31st – Your Tita Kate
September 2nd – Books on Pointe
September 3rd – Andi’s ABCs
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