Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Excerpt & Giveaway: Who R U Really? by Margo Kelly

Title: Who R U Really?
Author: Margo Kelly
Publisher: Merit Press
Publication: September 18, 2014
Website | Twitter
About the Book
Thea's overprotective parents are driving her insane. They invade her privacy, ask too many questions, and restrict her online time so severely that Thea feels she has no life at all. When she discovers a new role-playing game online, Thea breaks the rules by staying up late to play. She's living a double life: on one hand, the obedient daughter; on the other, a girl slipping deeper into darkness. In the world of the game, Thea falls under the spell of Kit, an older boy whose smarts and savvy can't defeat his loneliness and near-suicidal despair. As Kit draws soft-hearted Thea into his drama, she creates a full plate of cover stories for her parents and then even her friends.

Soon, Thea is all alone in the dark world with Kit, who worries her more and more, but also seems to be the only person who really "gets" her. Is he frightening, the way he seems sometimes, or only terribly sad? Should Thea fear Kit, or pity him? And now, Kit wants to come out of the screen and bring Thea into his real-life world. As much as she suspects that this is wrong, Thea is powerless to resist Kit's allure, and hurtles toward the same dark fate her parents feared most. Ripped from a true-life story of Internet stalking, Who R U Really? will excite you and scare you, as Thea's life spins out of control.

Chapter 1 Excerpt: 

When Tim’s eyes, bluer than an Idaho sky, met mine, my mind turned to mush. He towered above everyone else at the bus stop, and on this cold January morning he looked cuter than ever with his bomber hat and rosy cheeks. He shoved his sidekick, Josh, jokingly, and a cloud of white air escaped Tim’s mouth.

My best friend, Janie, whacked me on the hip. “Omigosh, Thea. Here they come. Smile.” Her words bounced in rhythm with her black ringlets. She adjusted her new fluffy snow-white parka. Even though it had a hood, she would never smash her perfect curls simply to stay warm. The crisp air made the tip of her nose red, but the rest of her face remained alabaster white. We’d been best friends for years, and now at fourteen, having a friend made the ninth grade bearable.

Janie hoped Josh and Tim would ask us to the Winter Solstice dance, but I just hoped to speak to Tim without sounding like a complete idiot. Tim walked in our direction with Josh right on his heels. They stopped in front of us, and everyone else hovered to watch the show.

“Thea,” Tim said.

I wanted to reply, but no words came. Josh approached Janie, and I fidgeted with my favorite fuzzy pink scarf.

“Jan-eee,” Josh said, dragging out the last syllable of her name.

He eyed her up and down. “You look like a giant fat marshmallow.”

Janie’s smile dissolved, and her cheeks flushed.

“What did you say?” My voice cracked, and heat spread from my chest to my ears. I stepped in front of Josh.

 “Get out of my face.” He loomed over me and the veins in his thick neck swelled . . . but it would take more than words and a threatening look to scare me off.

I stretched up closer to him. “Not until you apologize to my friend.”

He moved toe-to-toe and leaned nose-to-nose with me. “Back off, toothpick.” His breath reeked of sausage. He jerked his hands upward and faked a lunge toward me.

I stumbled backward and landed on my butt. Gasps echoed. I sat dazed, too angry for tears but too humiliated for retaliation. I tugged at my scarf, and it tightened like a noose around my neck. A couple of girls from the crowd helped me stand up.
Janie found her attitude and shoved Josh. “You jerk!” With a little head sway from side to side, she said, “I ain’t no marshmallow. You have marshmallows for brains. Didn’t your mama teach you not to hit girls?”

The girls in the crowd chimed in with a “Yeah!” and many of the guys positioned themselves behind Josh and Tim. We stood divided. Tim’s mouth hung open, and he did nothing to help.

“I didn’t hit her,” Josh said. “I can’t help it if she’s a klutz—”

Tim lifted his hands. “Stop, before this gets out of control.”

“Josh is the one out of control,” I said. I wanted to do more than fake a lunge toward him, but he was bigger and stronger. I didn’t stand a chance.

“Oh, come on, Thea. He was joking,” Tim said.

“No . . .” I dusted off my jeans and rearranged my scarf. “Josh is a disgrace to the human race, and you’re guilty by association.”

“Whatever.” Tim motioned for Josh to follow him. As they walked away, Josh glared over his shoulder at Janie and puffed out his cheeks like a blowfish. She flushed again. So much for getting asked to the dance. That yelling match also ruined my chance with Tim, not that I particularly wanted to go with him anymore.

The bus ride to school was endless. Janie’s cell phone chimed, and she pulled it out of her pocket. She fingered the phone, and her shoulders sagged. She flung it into my lap. A video was playing on the small screen, starting with me landing on my butt and ending with Tim saying, “Whatever.”

The bus pulled into the lot. People clambered off, leaving us behind. We were glued to the seat, staring at her cell. Suddenly, the bus radio seemed louder. The smell of vinyl and residual body odor made me want to gag. I needed off the bus. I grabbed the edge of the seat in front of me, to hoist myself up, and my fingers stuck in a wad of already-been-chewed gum. Great. I plopped back down and pushed against Janie.

“Move,” I said.

She stepped into the aisle and let me climb out.

For the rest of the day, people turned traitors and yelled, “Whatever!” I was mortified, but not like Janie. Guys shouted “Marshmallow!” at her over and over. Even though cell phones weren’t allowed in the classrooms, people snuck them out and kept sharing the video. Bullies like Josh needed to be put in their place, but I was clearly incapable of doing anything without humiliating myself in the process. Janie and I walked home.
Later that night, I headed down the hall from the bathroom to my bedroom. I tapped the portraits on the wall as I went. Mom hung our school pictures here, but she also included special family events, like when we planted the dogwood and maple trees in the backyard nearly ten years ago. Mom stepped next to me in the hall. “Are you all right?” She pulled the reading glasses off her nose, and when she propped them on top of her head, gray roots peeked out from beneath her short copper hair.

“Yeah.” I shrugged.

“Did something happen today?”

Only if you count the whole world coming to an end. After a slow sigh, I moved toward the end of the hall. Mom followed after me, and I wondered if I should tell her. Maybe she could help. Once in my room, I crawled into my bed and crushed my pillow. A tear escaped, and I wiped it away with the pillowcase.

“You can tell me,” Mom said and sat next to me. She stroked my hair, and my heart ripped open. I blubbered like a baby until I’d finished telling her every last detail.

“Josh ruined everything,” I said, “and I don’t know what to do about it. Plus, he could have pummeled me if he wanted, and I wouldn’t have been able to stop him.” I curled around and rested my head on her thigh.

She rubbed my back and said, “If it will help, I can call Josh’s parents tomorrow, and I can drive you to school.”

“Or you could just punch him for me. That would help.”

Mom grinned. “Well, I don’t think I can punch him. His parents wouldn’t like that very much.”

“I’d like it. Doesn’t that matter?” I smirked. Mom rested her hand on my cheek.

“Thea, you do not have to tolerate that kind of behavior from any guy.” Mom’s face paled, and she held her breath for a moment.

“Maybe we should take a self-defense class together at the rec center.”

“So I could learn the best way to kick Josh in the nuts?” I asked.

Mom scrunched up her face. “I’m serious, Thea. It’s important to know how to protect yourself.”

“Have you taken one of these classes before?” I asked.

Mom nodded. She twisted a ring on her finger, and then a tear fell from her face.
“What?” I sat up and gripped her hand.

“I was attacked in college—” We locked eyes. “—I’m fine, but it was terrifying. If I’d known some self-defense moves, maybe I could have fought for myself, but I didn’t know anything. And when this guy came at me from behind, I had no idea what to do. Fortunately, for me, some other students came along and chased the guy off. But anything could have happened to me that night. Later, as a part of my recovery from the trauma, I took a self-defense class . . . and I’ve never needed to use the skills I learned . . . but I think it would be good for both of us to go and take the class together. Knowledge is power.”

“And I could probably punch something,” I said, trying to make Mom smile.

“Probably.” She grinned. “I’ll check into it and figure out when we can take a class.”

“I’d like that.”

She wrapped her arms around me. “I love you, Thea, and I’d do anything for you. And if it was up to me, I’d cocoon you and keep you safe forever.”

“But you have to let me grow up,” I said.

“I know, but not yet.” She pulled me tighter.

The next morning, I pulled my massive comforter up to my neck and dreaded facing the day. Even after confiding in Mom, I still spent hours crying during the night because I was so angry. By morning my eyes burned; they were probably red, raw, and puffy.

Yesterday’s events still haunted me, and I repeated the nightmare over and over in my head. I grabbed my cell from the nightstand and replayed the video. I tossed my phone on the floor and tried to gather my determination, but instead, I yanked my blanket over my head and hid in the safety of my bed. I promised myself I would never cry over a guy like that again.

About thirty minutes later, I gave up. I rolled over and switched on my lamp. I tore off the top page of my Quote of the Day calendar—my annual Christmas gift from Mom—and read the day’s quote.

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.—Aristotle

Whatever. I ripped off the page, crumpled it, and threw it across the room toward the trash can. Missed. I read the next quote.

Men cease to interest us when we find their limitations.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nice. That one made sense. Who needs them? I patted the quote and swung my legs over the side of the bed. Warm air blew from the vent in my floor, and the fuzzy fibers of my pink scarf danced ever-so-slightly as it hung on the back of my chair. My thighs still ached from the forty-five minute trudge home yesterday. We had nearly frozen to death, but it was better than climbing onto that bus after school.

I enjoyed a long, lazy shower, shaved my legs (even though hardly any hair had grown since last week), and plucked my eyebrows. As I wiggled into my newest pair of jeans, I thought of Janie’s cool clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch. My parents believed jeans were jeans, and that a pair from Walmart would do just fine. I usually agreed with them, but I had to tug these jeans down a smidgen at the waist to add length at the ankles.

I finished my outfit with some black flats, a white T-shirt, and a cherry-red sweater—which looked great with my puffy eyes. Not. But it could serve as a bright distraction instead. I checked in the mirror to make sure my hair hung perfectly straight. Mom always said it was a gorgeous dark auburn color, but it’s red. And red is red. The freckles don’t help the situation. I rubbed foundation over the pesky spots, and then I applied olive colored eyeliner and black mascara to help camouflage my swollen eyes.

“That’s the best it’s going to get this morning,” I said to my reflection. I headed down the hall and around the corner to the kitchen for breakfast with my family. Sunshine flooded through the windows, and I squinted at the bright sparkles bouncing off the sliding glass door.

“Good morning, baby-girl. Feeling better?” Mom poured herself a glass of orange juice.


Dad downed a bowl of cereal while leaning over the granite counter. He licked milk from his lips and said, “Cynthia, we adore you. That’s what matters. Besides . . . no dating until sixteen. Family rules.”

I huffed at Mom. “You weren’t supposed to tell the whole world.”

“I only told your dad.”

“I’ve got to go.” Dad snagged another bite of cereal. Then he grabbed his coat and cell phone, kissed my head, told Mom he loved her, and gave a short salute to my older brother, Seth, who sat at the table near the windows. Dad left in a flash.

“Would you like some scrambled eggs and toast?” Mom asked.

“Sure.” I plopped onto the barstool.

“Today will be better. I’m sure everything has blown over.” She cracked eggs into a bowl as she spoke and dropped the shells into the trash. “It’s not the end of the world, and you’ll find out boys do dumb things all the time.”

“Hey! Boy sitting right here,” Seth said. He acted offended for about five seconds and then went back to reading the comics. Seth, two years older than me, was a junior and already a star player on the football team. No one cared that his hair was as red as mine.
He slathered it with gel and spiked it a bit in front. Everyone worshipped him. So annoying.

Looking back at Mom, I said, “Seriously. This is so not funny. Everyone saw that video.”

Mom came around the edge of the counter and set her hand on mine. “Oh sweetheart, I know it isn’t funny. I can still call Josh’s parents and talk to them.”

 “Don’t. That’ll make it worse.” I twisted a napkin into a ball. “I just want to be liked.”

Seth snorted.

“Shut up!” I threw the wadded napkin at him.

“What?” he said. “I’m reading the comics here. They’re funny.”

I glared at him until he shrugged and went back to the newspaper.

“Besides, you are well liked,” Mom said. “You’ve got lots of friends, Janie, Emily—”

“Stop. I get it.” But those are all girls. I longed for a boyfriend who would confide in me and need me. I wanted him to say the three most beautiful words in the world to me: I love you. A slow sigh escaped my lips, and I rested my chin on my hands.

“Okay, honey,” Mom said and beat the eggs with a fork.

I avoided Tim over the next several weeks, which was an epic challenge considering we shared a bus stop. Janie and I showed up as late as possible and waited on the opposite side of the group from him and Josh. And yet, whenever Tim came within fifteen feet of me, my heart sped up.

Two days before Valentine’s, Janie ran through the cafeteria waving her cell phone.

“Omigosh! You’ll never believe this!” she shrieked, bouncing up and down.

“What are you talking about? Calm down!” I gripped her shoulders to mollify her.

Janie took a deep breath and then spoke as fast as a bullet shot from a gun. “Tim wants to go out with you!” She sprung up like a coil and bounced again; a huge brace-filled smile overtook her small face.

“Go where?” I knew what she meant, but I was too stunned to believe it.

Janie flinched. “Are you a complete moron? Not go somewhere.

Go out. As in, be your boyfriend!” Janie shoved me. “Say something!”

“How do you know this?”

She pushed her phone in my face, and I read:

Will u ask Thea if she’ll go out with me?—Tim

I gawked at it. “Why would he text you instead of asking me himself?”

“I don’t know! But it’s for real!” She started bouncing again.

“Isn’t it awesome? Aren’t you excited? We have to hurry and reply yes. I almost did it for you, but figured I should let you.”


Janie halted. “No?”

“I will not be his girlfriend.”

“Are you crazy? This is what we dream about. We want a boyfriend. This could be the start of something huge for us. He could be your soul mate. We have to say yes!”

“Don’t you remember the agony he and Josh put us through?”

“Oh, Thea, last month is old news. He likes you!”

“No.” I scanned the cafeteria and spotted Tim in the lunch line.

I pulled out my cell, tapped in Tim’s number, and typed a reply. No way! Plus u didnt even ask me in person!—Thea

I pressed the Send button and watched him across the room.

He was by far the tallest guy in our class. Rumor was he’d started shaving three years ago. I wished I could touch his skin to see if it was true. And how he remained tan in winter mystified me. The fluorescents overhead brought out the natural highlights of his
honey-colored hair. He moved forward in the line, balanced his tray with one hand, and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket with the other.

Oh no. What had I done? My eyes began to sting, but I remembered my promise: I would not cry over a guy. Ever. I counted the tiles in the ceiling and willed the tears to recede. Crying equaled weakness. I took a deep breath and wiped my eyes. Stupid.

Tim swayed in the lunch line. His brows creased together as he looked at his phone. Josh leaned in and looked at it, too. Then Josh raised his voice loud enough for me to catch him calling me a stupid shrew and telling Tim to forget about me. The lunch lady waggled her finger at Tim and pointed to the phone. He slipped it back into his pocket and proceeded through the line. I needed fresh air. I clutched Janie’s arm and pulled her outside to eat, even if it was thirty degrees.

At the kitchen table that evening, Mom forced a family conversation. Frankly, I prefer the clanking of forks to a pointless discussion, but there was no way I could stop her.

“Seth, what was the best part of your day?” Mom asked.

Through a mouthful of spaghetti he said, “Found a great new computer game called Skadi.”

“Is it one of those violent first-person shooter games?” Mom asked.

Seth cocked an eyebrow. “Not at all, Mom. It’s totally tame.”

Mom glanced at Dad. He shrugged and tucked a napkin into his collar.

“Thea, what was the best part of your day?” Mom asked.

I could only come up with the worst part. “A guy asked me to go out with him.”

Seth stopped shoveling food. “Seriously?”

I tightened my eyes into tiny slits. He took the hint and went back to shoveling.

“Go out where?” Dad asked and twirled his noodles with his fork. “Cynthia, you’re not old enough to date.”

“Oh, Robert . . .” Mom rubbed a fingertip along an eyebrow, and I wondered why she didn’t color the gray in her brows to better match the copper color of her hair. “It’s a term kids use. They don’t actually go out. It is more of a status symbol.”

Dad grimaced—which emphasized his sagging jawline—and then folded his beefy arms across his chest. Long past his prime, Dad used his extended hours at work as an excuse to not exercise.
But his appearance didn’t matter to me. I just wanted him to be proud of me like he was of Seth. Mom continued the conversation. “Well, that’s exciting, Thea. What did you tell him?”

“I told him no way.”

Dad’s eyebrows shot up. “Way to devastate the poor boy’s ego.”

“You said I’m not old enough to date. So I told him no.”

“Yes, but you could’ve explained to him that you’re simply obeying your parents’ rules.”

“Right.” I struggled to control my irritation. My hand twitched, and I doubted my decision of rejecting Tim. I held my breath to reinforce my determination.

“Cynthia, I know you are still trying to figure things out,” Seth said, “but if you want guys to ask you out when you’re sixteen, you need to do ground work now. You need to gently say no so you don’t crush the guy. Otherwise, they won’t come near you. After that video last month and now this . . . you need to learn to be friends with guys before you can ever hope for them to date you.”

“Well said, son.” Dad gave Seth a thumbs-up.

“Shut up, Seth, and don’t call me Cynthia. It’s Thea.”

And with that, I was sentenced to my room.

A few weeks later, just before spring break, a new guy named Taylor moved into town. He didn’t waste time. He came straight up to me before English class. “Hey Thea, you want to go out with me?”

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  1. I have been looking forward for this one! I've always felt that books about computers/internet/hacking are quite underrepresented. I don't get to see books under the category. Thanks for the chance!!!

    Carmel @

  2. LOVE the voice! You connect with her completely, and it's such an awesome concept that's so very real :)

    thank you :)


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