Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
I put this one on my TBR years ago, and I only fished it out of the void a few days ago, after looking for some books to read for AAPI heritage month. I’d read mixed reviews, so I went in with low expectations, but I came out with a fantastic and nuanced story of feminism in a high school setting!
Enjoy this week’s review!
Not Here to Be Liked – Michelle Quach
Eliza Quan knows that she’s qualified for the position of editor-in-chief at her high school newspaper. She’s been with them since the beginning of her high school career, and sure, she may not be the warmest person 24/7, but she has what it takes to bring the newspaper to new heights. The problem? Her classmates don’t seem to think so.
When she loses the editor-in-chief election to Len DiMartile, who only joined the newspaper after an injury prevented him from playing baseball and decided to run against her on a whim, she feels as though all of her hard work has come to nothing. And she knows she’s qualified—so why does this sexist activity keep running amok in her school? After pouring out her thoughts in a manifesto, Eliza thinks it’s all over. But after the manifesto is posted to the paper’s website without her permission, it causes a ripple effect of protest and accusations. Among the sides being taken, can Eliza transform this drama into genuine change at her school?
TW/CW: sexism/misogyny (external & internalized), racism, bullying, slut-shaming, substance abuse (alcohol)
Don’t you just love it when you’ve forgotten about a book existing, so you go in with low expectations, and you end up dazzled? Top 10 feelings, for sure.
I’ve read my fair share of feminist, realistic-fiction YA in my day, and sadly, it’s easy for them to miss the mark, whether it’s introducing diverse characters for the sake of intersectionality and doing nothing with them (Six Angry Girls) or having a protagonist who only focuses on very surface-level aspects of feminism without getting any more nuanced (half of Watch Us Rise). But Not Here to Be Liked delivered the nuance, heart, and punch that it was supposed to, making for a powerful story of systemic misogyny and leadership.
I think some of the reviews seemed to miss the point when talking about Eliza—she’s a great character, but she’s not intended to be entirely likable. It’s in the title, after all! Sure—she’s determined to make the school paper as good as possible, and sometimes, that comes off as abrasive or strict. But that’s the point—were she a man, these traits would be praised: she’s “too harsh,” but he’s “willing to take charge” or “a fearless leader.” See the double standard? That’s what this book was trying to say all along. And Quach did an excellent job of having a flawed but incredibly root-able protagonist: every position that she takes is a laudable one that’s backed up more often than not. Eliza was robbed of her position, simply because a man’s charisma meant more than a woman’s experience and talent.
Not Here to Be Liked also portrayed how we think of feminism so well! As soon as Eliza’s manifesto is leaked and both support and vitriol begin to flow towards her, many of her classmates stand behind her, but their support is often half-baked; it’s a great commentary on that shallow, hollow white feminism that’s so prevalent among people who aren’t willing to do anything politically uncomfortable: slapping an “I am a feminist” pin on your shirt, saying “smash the patriarchy!” a few times because it’s briefly profitable, and being done with it. This novel does an incredible job of dissecting the true nuance of feminism and teaching others that making genuine change isn’t simple or easy—there are always more layers than you think there are. It’s never just about gender—it’s about race, sexuality, class, and so many other facets of our national (and international) identity. And even though this book doesn’t necessarily cover every bit of it—it’s a big ask for a single book to cover every single component that falls under feminism—it didn’t need to: misogyny and racism were the main focuses, and they were dealt with in a nuanced way. Apart from a misunderstanding of the Bechdel test (the book seemed to interpret a lot of it as how much real women think about men, when Bechdel’s focus was more about how female characters are written, especially in male-dominated Hollywood), it’s a great view of feminism in a YA setting.
Plus, with all of my gripes, Not Here to Be Liked did something of an enemies-to-lovers romance pretty well! Going into this novel, that part was what I was most suspicious about, but Quach, unlike many romances with “enemies-to-lovers” slapped onto them as a buzzword, actually handled in a way that felt authentic. The stages of Eliza and Len’s relationship didn’t feel like it was cut into neat, digestible slices—they had their ups and downs, and the result wasn’t entirely black and white, either. That’s what love is. It’s not quantifiable by any of the labels we put on it, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. Personally, I didn’t think that they had a whole lot of chemistry together, but their relationship was well-written enough that I could push some of that to the side.
All in all, an incredible story of one young woman’s fight for justice in her high school that scores high on its protagonist and depictions of feminism. 4 stars!
Not Here to Be Liked is a standalone, but Michelle Quach is also the author of The Boy You Always Wanted, which is slated for release on August 1, 2023.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!