What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter

Marisa Kanter’s What I Like About You is a light and refreshing read about Halle, a teen book blogger whose online and real-world identities collide. There was a time when the idea of having two worlds was unthinkable, but it is quite common today, even for people who don’t craft separate names or identities on purpose. But what are the odds of meeting your online best friend in real life? I’d say chances are pretty slim, but it wouldn’t have been a fun read if this source of friction didn’t exist.

Why I read What I Like About You:

  • I am also a blogger, so I (somewhat) identified with the main character;
  • I am a fool for cutesy romances between bookish characters; and
  • I wanted a change of pace from the stories I’d been reading recently.

What I Like About You is a YA book written for a YA audience. It is what it is. Although there are a lot of YA books that could have been written for adults too (check out Coraline, Eleanor & Park, and The Saturday Night Ghost Club, which I loved), such is not the case for What I Like About You. The voice (brilliantly done!) is very gen z—I had flashbacks of my younger coworkers from my previous job—and, of course, there’s some sort of teen angst present. (It’s not too obvious because it’s not the rebellious troublemaker kind, but it’s there.) If this isn’t your jam (the book is filled with slang, chats, and tweets, and there are occasional attacks on adults), you can skip this book.

The plot is quite predictable, but What I Like About You is relatable:

  • The hyper-focus on building a beefy portfolio is very relevant now. While it’s weird to think that you need to be made to get into a program that’s supposed to mold you, it is, unfortunately, a reality nowadays. There is this crazy expectation that you need to have experience under your belt for companies to offer you internships when the point of internships is to gain experience.
  • Social media sets unreasonable expectations and can get toxic. You have to watch what you do and don’t say, and if you stay silent, people will take your silence as complicit in whatever issue they are debating about. That is a lot of pressure. It’s no wonder a lot of online personalities go on hiatus from time to time.
  • Grief is a tricky thing, and everyone handles it differently. Sometimes the answer is alone time; other times it’s socialization. It varies from person to person. I liked that What I Like About You showed that relationships always go both ways because, as social beings, no man is an island.
  • We all want to be loved for ourselves. I’ll leave it at that.

Some aspects of the book also had me thinking:

  • Halle (appropriately) reads and writes about YA books. When the book ends, she’s getting ready for college, and she’s asked what she plans to do when she’s no longer a teenager. I found myself wanting to tell her it’s okay to rebrand and to grow over time. No one needs to stay the same way forever. (Look at Madonna and Taylor Swift—haters gonna hate, but both have evolved through time.)
  • Every target audience has its own likes and dislikes, so we can’t please everyone and not “put books in a box.” Man, I do not know what a book targeted at everyone would even read like. Having a particular audience for your work does not lessen its value. (In the book, the YA blogger community feels insulted when an author implies that “writing for teens is somehow LESS THAN.”) Anyway, my point is, no, it is not less than to write YA because if no one targeted the YA audience, would anyone still grow up loving books, working in publication, or writing books at all?
  • It’s cool to have healthy relationships. I love that Halle and her family have a close relationship. It may come off as too good to be true, but isn’t it heartwarming to see stories in which family is not a source of pain?

Perhaps the main reason I enjoyed What I Like About You is that I felt like it combined different aspects of my life and made it into a cute story. I’ve already mentioned that I read the book because the main character is also a book blogger, but the book also took me back to a not so distant past.

When I think of the writing voice (“I can’t sport,” lunch with “Le Crew,” feeling “less than,” etc.), I remembered my younger coworkers—I know, I’ve mentioned this earlier, but the memories are just so vivid!—and I was impressed at how convincingly gen z Marisa Kanter sounded. (There are some YA novels in which the characters don’t even sound young…) I hope she continues to write YA, as her voice is impeccable.

Finally, while I did not have a Jewish upbringing, all the references took me back to my carpool rides with my friend (who was also my coworker and neighbor) before we both moved out of the city. Our office was an hour away from home (without traffic, 40 minutes), and I enjoyed all our carpool conversations about our families and culture. It’s been two years since our last carpool ride, but somehow it doesn’t feel too long ago now.

What I Like About You brings me warm and happy feelings, so I like it.

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