AUTHOR: Marisa Kanter
CATEGORY/AUDIENCE: Young Adult
GENRE: Contemporary, Romance
RELEASE: April 7, 2020
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Halle has spent years cultivating her online persona: “Kels,” a confident YA book blogger who bakes stunning cupcakes inspired by book covers and has a huge online following. After moving in with her grandpa, Halle has carefully crafted a plan to finish senior year strong, keep blogging & baking, and earn a spot at NYU so she can pursue her dream of working in publishing. She wasn’t expecting to become classmates with Nash, who happens to be her online best friend–and who has no idea that Kels’s real name is Halle. Afraid that the real Halle won’t live up to her cool girl persona, she makes a snap decision to not tell him who she really is. But when feelings start to brew between Halle and Nash IRL, it becomes harder to keep up with the lies separating her from Kels.
What I Like About You is truly a pitch-perfect contemporary romance with a voice that feels fresh and authentic that has definitely landed Marisa Kanter as a much-watch author. Each page was an absolute joy and I never wanted to put it down. Halle was so relatable–she has passions, dreams, insecurities. Her desire to create a confident online alter-ego, Kels, will resonate with so many readers. Nash was a swoon-worthy love interest, and watching Halle struggle to choose between friendship had me so enthralled. Fans of the friends-to-lovers trope, secret-online identities, or love triangles (even though there’s technically just two people in this triangle!) will absolutely adore the romance between them.
This novel is also full of much-needed representation: Halle’s family, as well as many others in her new neighborhood, are Jewish. There are so many different representations of what it means to be Jewish and to celebrate a Jewish identity in WILAY that rang so true for me as a Jewish reader; the Jewish rep is also #OwnVoices. Nash is biracial (Asian-American and white), and there are numerous queer and POC supporting characters.
There really are so many characters to love in WILAY: Halle’s brother Olle, her larger-than-life documentarian parents, and both online & IRL friends, all of whom are diverse and multi-dimensional. Halle and Ollie’s grandfather felt like such a real, flawed human wading through grief and anger after the death of his wife. And despite being deceased for the entire book, Grams felt like one of the biggest, warmest characters. Her impact on Halle felt so tangible, and the relationship between them was so beautiful. Kanter has truly woven so many incredible, fleshed out characters and relationships into this story.
I wasn’t expecting what appeared to be a lighthearted rom-com to handle grief so well, but WILAY does just that. At the onset of the novel, Halle and Ollie are moving in with their grandfather following the death of their grandmother. Each character is struggling with grief in their own way, and their voices and pain felt so authentic. The themes of grief don’t feel out of place, at all; Halle’s grandmother was a YA editor who ignited Halle’s love of books, so the pain caused by her death weaves into the novel naturally. The plot is multi-faceted in a way that never felt overdone for me. There are also text conversations, emails, and tweets sprinkled throughout the book which made it engaging and fun. I’ll definitely be recommending this to teen readers at my library who love uniquely formatted books like All of This is True or Technically, You Started It.
I love that this novel also touches on anxiety, and how the internet, and specifically communities like book Twitter can become a community and a safe place. Ultimately, what I love most about this book is the message that teen books are for teens. Halle is an advocate for teens and for keeping teen voices centered in conversations about YA–something I whole-heartedly agree with. WILAY is very much about how teens navigate the book world, and the need for them to have their own spaces within it.
What I Like About You is perfect for fans of contemporary YA romance, and particularly readers who love Alex Approximately, Eliza and Her Monsters, and Tweet Cute. This is the book to read if you consider yourself a die-hard YA reader and often find yourself deep in the corners of book twitter. Halle’s voice and passion for screaming about books will hit home with so many readers, bloggers, and social media users; but what I love the most about this book is that it is for teens. It’s a love letter to teen lit, teen readers, and teen advocacy. It’s a book about teens chasing their dreams and taking up space that should belong to them. Marisa Kanter has fearlessly crafted a loveable, smile-inducing book that also presents a conversation that the YA community desperately needs to have. I’ll be screaming about this book all year long, and I hope every other teen librarian out there will be, too.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for the free review copy.