Release Date: 4.7.2020
Disclaimer: I received a free eARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Let me start off with saying I am SO excited to review this book. I picked it up knowing virtually nothing about it, and didn’t expect a whole lot, but it completely opened my eyes about something that’s a big part of my (and most of our) lives. This book is definitely one of my favorite rom-com contemporaries that I’ve read recently, and it reminded me of why I love YA so much. YA is the genre that can reach people at a time when they’re experiencing so much growth, and it has the potential to provide them with insight into the world around them–in the case of this book, insight into how social media can have such a significant impact on the way they view themselves in ways that they might not think about. The protagonist is a BOOK BLOGGER(!!), and I have to say, I’ve never read a protagonist with that particular archetype before. (poetry blogger, yes: heLLO Abbie Emmons’ 100 Days of Sunlight, but not book blogger). Even though the synopsis presents it as a rom-com, the book focused on so many other aspects of Halle (the protagonist)’s life, like college applications and her relationships to her friends, family, and religion.I speed-read this book in a weekend (Valentine’s day weekend, to be precise – it was perfect timing), and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something exciting and cute, but also completely original and relatable, not to mention insightful.
Is it still a love triangle if there are only two people in it?
There are a million things that Halle Levitt likes about her online best friend, Nash.
He’s an incredibly talented graphic novelist. He loves books almost as much as she does. And she never has to deal with the awkwardness of seeing him in real life. They can talk about anything…
Except who she really is.
Because online, Halle isn’t Halle—she’s Kels, the enigmatically cool creator of One True Pastry, a YA book blog that pairs epic custom cupcakes with covers and reviews. Kels has everything Halle doesn’t: friends, a growing platform, tons of confidence, and Nash.
That is, until Halle arrives to spend senior year in Gramps’s small town and finds herself face-to-face with real, human, not-behind-a-screen Nash. Nash, who is somehow everywhere she goes—in her classes, at the bakery, even at synagogue.
Nash who has no idea she’s actually Kels.
If Halle tells him who she is, it will ruin the non-awkward magic of their digital friendship. Not telling him though, means it can never be anything more. Because while she starts to fall for Nash as Halle…he’s in love with Kels.Goodreads
There was a lot to love in this book. I loved how supportive Halle and Nash’s friends were, and I felt like it was real representation of friendship in that Halle struggling with her identity and trust issues caused problems, but everyone’s love for one another let them come out stronger than ever in the end. It was great to read a YA rom-com in which there was a solid amount of page-time given to Halle’s other non-romantic friendships and relationships. Her relationship with her brother was adorable, and it was great to see so much relationship development between the two of them, and between them and their grandfather after the loss of their grandmother, who was Halle’s inspiration.
Witnessing Halle’s struggle between connecting her online identity as a popular book blogger named Kels, and her real-life identity as Halle was so relatable, not because of the specifics of her conflict, but because I think it’s a conflict many of us growing up in the world of social media today face. Halle thinks that Kels is more interesting than Halle, and that her online best friend, Nash (who she’s now friends with in person) will be disappointed by the real person behind her online identity.
Our online selves are versions of ourselves that we carefully curate. We create an image of ourselves that we want the world to see, but most of the time that’s not truly reflective of who we are and what we’re going through. This isn’t some a-ha moment, though; we all know this. So, I decided to do some research, and lo-and-behold, found a plethora of online sources talking about “Identity in the Age of Social Media” (The New Yorker) and “Online Identity–Is Your Social Media Persona Real?” (SAPIENS). I found a research paper titled “Social Media and Self: Influences on the Formation of Identity and Understanding of Self through Social Networking Sites.” Obviously, this is a pretty well studied topic, and an issue that most people are aware of. There’s even a term for one’s online self: internet identity (IID), also known as an online identity, or internet persona (thanks Wikipedia; I actually had no idea this was a thing).
So, if everyone already knows that this is an issue, then why was this supposedly stereotypical millennial issue the thing I loved the most about this book’s plot?
Well, I’d first like to say that this book is different because it’s about a different kind of online identity: that of a book blogger! SO much more relatable to its intended audience–readers of YA, who might–like me–possibly run their own book blogs, bookstagrams, or Booktube channels (or all of the above). The honest truth is, I LOVED reading about a book blogger. It felt like some strange fourth wall breaking; me reading a book about a girl reading books to review them for her blog so that I could review it for my blog. See? We’re so similar you probably couldn’t even tell which arguments of that sentence belonged to which subject, me or Halle. It was so exciting to read about how important her blog was to her, and how much effort she put into it, because it made me feel validated in a strange sense to be able to connect to someone I could relate to in that very specific sense.
More than that, though, I related to her in her fears of revealing her identity as Kels to Nash. Not that I’m anywhere near as famous as Kels, but it’s so much easier for me to write and post anonymously because I feel less vulnerable. It’s scary to let people you’ve never met into your life, and into how you feel about your biggest passions, but it’s almost scarier to let people who you do know into your real life. I hid this blog from everyone except my mom for four years before I felt confident enough to tell my friends. Without anyone knowing who’s writing this, I feel less at risk of being judged or criticized for who I am.
I feel like whenever I write a post, I’m pouring my heart out, and I don’t ever feel that to the same extent when I post something on my personal social media accounts. It’s much harder to be real, and post anything resembling my authentic self, but the truth is my life–or anyone’s –isn’t just the picture perfect version of myself I want to share and remember. Even knowing that, we feel intimidated by the perfection we see online and want to present ourselves that way too. Why? The real me just went through the most difficult year of her life–first breakup; dealing with medical issues that impacted and continue to impact every aspect of my life, from physical and mental health, to academics, to friendships; losing my grandmother. I’ve briefly mentioned some of these things through the poetry I’ve posted, and in some posts. But on my personal social media, it looks like I’m as happy as ever–me dressed up and laughing, hanging out with friends, and loving life. Not that those moments, were fake, or didn’t happen; it’s more that they aren’t representative of how my life has changed, how much I’ve grown, and how much I was dealing with. Social media almost became a place for me to convince everyone I was doing okay and everything was normal–that I was the same, always smiling, optimistic, and confident person they’ve always known. Sharing this blog with someone who knows me in-person would mean they would be able to get to know a version of me that may very likely be more real than the me they know in real life, which is intimidating. But it’s also something I want! I want people to get to know the real me. I’ve been trying to be much more authentic, and present the real me everywhere because it’s exhausting to keep up an image. I believe Halle’s journey parallels this one ~ she’s scared to tell Nash she’s his online best friend, because then he’ll suddenly know so much about her, and she doesn’t want him to judge her, even though her and Kels are different versions of the same person. I think sometimes we forget that getting to know someone and who they are is one of the greatest parts of life, and so is being known.
Why are we so scared to let people in and know our real selves? Why are we drawn towards only presenting the happy, and picture-perfect occasions and parts of our lives? And does this representation become part of how we ultimately view ourselves?
These are just a few of the questions What I Like About You made me think about, and I’d love to hear your opinions ~
Would I recommend this book? Definitely YES. Whether you’re looking for a critique of social media with some real advice and conclusions, a swoon-worthy romance, or both, I think anyone would love What I Like About You. It comes out TOMORROW and you can pre-order using the link at the top of this page, or from your local bookstore (show them some love during this difficult time ❤ ).
Thank you so much for reading! Are you excited to read What I Like About You? Any thoughts on the cover or the plot? Let me know down below; I’d love to discuss!! Sending you lots of love and support, and hoping you and your loved ones are safe and healthy ❤