Oh, this was a delight! Even as I say that, it reminded me of Eliza and Her Monsters, but much more ridiculous (and not quite as good). Like Kels’s IG, this was a twee cupcake of a book.
Basic plot: Halle runs a bookstagram where her schtick is that she decorates cupcakes inspired by book covers. It’s focused on young adult books–because adults talking about YA books is apparently “cringey”, as the book tells us over and over and over again. She started the project under a pseudonym because her grandmother is a well-known book editor.
Let’s pause right there because this is a large feature in the story and I never quite suspended my disbelief here. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an adult and don’t get The Youth or if it’s because I’m not a part of Book Twitter/Book IG. Do teenagers actually care about book editors? I know there are prominent editors, but are there editors so prominent that a teen would actually be worried about getting famous off her grandmother’s name? Is that a real thing? Because that doesn’t sound like a real thing.
Halle exists in two spaces: she wants the notice and attention of adults, especially the adults who can get her into NYU, which she is fixated on attending. (#CanRelate, I had a dream school, too. Though, girl, you suffer from anxiety in crowds, so wyd picking a school on the most crowded piece of land in the US?) These same adults are the ones she openly pushes away in the social media sphere because she finds them exhausting and would prefer to focus on her teen audience. So who exactly is she hiding her relationship with her grandmother from? The logic of her commitment to the pseudonym is central to the story, and so utterly foreign to what I would have been concerned about as a kid–maybe I wasn’t privileged enough–that I could not wrap my head around it. The foreignness of it could also be read as very realistic: whomst among us did not have circular logic underpinning some of our most spectacular missteps as a teen?
Anyway, back to
Eliza and Her Monsters I mean, What I Like About You. Standard hidden identity plot: Kels and Nash are flirty friends online, Halle discovers that the cute boy she met in the library is actually Nash IRL, and hides her identity in panic. It drags on too long, and blows up in the third act like you know it will.
The charm of the book isn’t in the plot. It’s in the characters and the relationships between them. Halle and her grandfather are struggling with their grief over the recent loss of her grandmother; their individual struggles keep them from being able to support one another. Unlike Eliza, she doesn’t hate her parents: her parents and brother all post together in a family group chat. It’s very sweet. Halle finds herself neatly inserted into Nash’s friend group, despite the fact that she initially resolves to avoid him entirely. All the kids are nice, clever kids. No weird rivalries, all talented in different ways with their own individual insecurities and strengths. Read the book for the well-drawn characters, but overlook that any kid would dream attending NYU over Wesleyan.
Kanter’s debut is a love letter to young adults in Book social media. She celebrates their voices and treats them like real people, and that’s a real strength here. I won’t lie: as an adult who reads some YA, it’s off-putting how much time she spends drawing a hard line between teens and adults in the YA reader-sphere, but that also feels natural to the character. It makes sense to me that kids would want their own space and their own conversations, separate from adult interpretations. How exhausting it would be to hear a 40+ adult go on about how immature a character is when they relate to that character. I suppose the adage applies here: if you don’t fit the description, it’s not about you.