The fact that I cannot think of a single YA novel with Jewish representation off the top of my head is a pretty clear sign to me that there aren’t enough books out there like What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter. Now, I’m not the sort of person who is religious and therefore I have a tendency to avoid religious books like the plague, however, I do see the importance for people to be able to see themselves in the stories they read. In my experience, the only religious characters I ever seem to come across are Christians. And fortunately for me, What I Like About You, is not over the top with religious themes but rather provides a small look into the lives of characters who happen to be Jewish.
The thing What I Like About You does best comes from its relatability. For me, that lied largely in the book blogger world. While I do not bake cupcakes to match my favorite books and while I have not been someone who has historically found it difficult to see myself in various characters, finding a character who was so deeply relatable to my life now was a fascinating experience. Often, relatability for me comes down to feelings and emotions rather than aspects of life that match up. But seeing yourself in a character is such an incredibly important thing. It is why the first time I found a character whose personality matched almost 100% to mine, her book became and remains to this day my all-time favorite.
What I Like About You is the story of a girl who dreams of working in publishing whose love for books has prompted her to develop a strong relationship with the online reading community. Unlike me, but perhaps like many others, Halle has a pen name for her online persona. When she moves in with her grandfather for her senior year of high school and suddenly finds herself meeting her online best friend–a graphic novelist Nash Kim–in person, she panics and doesn’t tell him who she is, scared that he will not like the real her as much as he likes her online self.
There’s so much about Halle that is relatable and in many ways, I deeply adored her as a character. Nash is equally, if not more, amazing. Halle’s brother was a wonderful addition, fun and the main voice of reason throughout the novel. In truth, I liked this book infinitely more than I expected to. As I said already, this book masterfully hones in on the relatability factor, giving readers the opportunity to see a character who exhibits many feelings that they themselves have.
My one issue with this novel is that parts of it feel seriously like catfishing but in a reverse manner. Without going into too many details as to avoid spoilers, What I Like About You has its differences. Namely, that Halle tried to keep Nash at further than arm’s length in the beginning and had several moments in which she was planning to tell him the truth about who she was and what she knew of him. But the fact of the matter is that it went on for an inordinate amount of time and the degree of intimacy involved made it increasingly uncomfortable to see how long she held off telling him the truth. Imagine, if you will, you had been in Nash’s position.
But the truth of the matter is that Halle is a teenager. And teenagers make mistakes. What I find hilarious is that there is a point in this novel where Halle’s online persona, Kels, is lambasted for remaining silent on an issue that a lot of people care about and that she cares about deeply herself. Her own emotional confliction on the matter is something others are unaware of and I found it fascinating that characters were judging a teenager so harshly. As a teenager, I made many mistakes myself. I made many mistakes as a young adult. And the truth is that we are all learning and growing as we have more experiences within the world.
And I think Kanter’s novel is an excellent portrayal of that.