Michelle Quach’s debut novel, Not Here to be Liked is an undeniable success that has made this fantasy lover desperate to pick up more contemporary YA.
From the Blurb:
Eliza Quan fully expects to be voted the next editor-in-chief of her school paper. She works hard, she respects the facts and she has the most experience.
Len DiMartile is an injured star baseball player who seems to have joined the paper just to have something to do. Naturally, the staff picks Len to be their next leader. Because while they may respect Eliza, they don’t particularly like her.
Eliza is not here to be liked. She’s here to win.
But someone does like Eliza. A lot.
Shame it’s the boy standing in the way of her becoming editor-in-chief…
Right from the beginning of this novel, Eliza Quan is a force to be reckoned with. She is not afraid to be exactly who she is and doesn’t seek the approval of anyone else. Unfortunately, this is to her detriment when at the last second Len DiMartile puts his name forward in the running to be editor-in-chief of the Bugle. Suddenly, Eliza is forced to realise that her say-it-like-it-is personality and cold façade have made her unlikeable and have caused her to lose the thing she worked the hardest for.
But Eliza’s personality isn’t entirely to blame. She is quick to point out that there is a level of sexism in the choice made by the paper’s staff. She worked incredibly hard as the managing editor and she is, after all, the most qualified for the position. So when an attractive, ex-baseball player with hardly a year’s experience beats her to the post, she rants out her feelings in a private article. Unbeknownst to her, someone later finishes and publishes her article, calling out the Bugle staff, and the school as a whole, for their sexism.
Not Here to be Liked is a book about feminism, and about the difficulty of being a feminist, especially as a teenager at school. Quach truly understands the struggle many girls and women face when they want to uphold their commitment to feminism, but realise it is not, and cannot be, black-and-white. As Eliza and her friends learn more and more about feminism, they become more confused about the right course of action. I commend Quach’s writing here, which felt incredibly close to home and realistic.
One of the most important choices Quach makes is to develop Eliza’s character but not to change her completely. The Eliza at the end of the novel is just as sure of who she is and who she wants to be, with all her fiery charm, as she was at the start. But she learns to let people in, and she learns that it’s okay to want to be liked, or to want to do her hair without adhering to the male gaze.
Michelle Quach tackles a lot of issues in one book. The complications of feminism and sexism are multitude and whilst she cannot comment on all of them, she does an excellent job at demonstrating what it’s really like to face this struggle as a woman, and particularly as a teenage girl. Paired with the problems arising from social media, Not Here to be Liked is an incredibly well-rounded look at the reality of the lives of teenagers today.
This book reminded me quite a bit of ‘Moxie’. I haven’t read the book (sorry!) but I have seen the Netflix adaptation, and Not Here to be Liked gave me those same girl-power vibes. I loved this. And while the stories have a similar tone and commentary, they are still worlds apart. Primarily because the majority of Quach’s cast are People of Colour, which was a delight to see and offered such a rich story.
Of course, I cannot write this review without mentioning the romance. It was written in such a sweet, considered way that was very aware of itself. Once Eliza and Len realise they like each other, Eliza is faced with yet another battle that sees her unsure of whether to pursue her feelings because of what that would mean for her sexism campaign — which just goes to highlight the sexism of the school and, naturally, the world. Nevertheless, the two can’t deny what they feel, and the way Quach delivers their side-story with such tenderness and thoughtfulness is a huge testament to her skills as a writer.
I’d also like to commend the fantastic book recommendations made throughout the novel, that are handily listed at the back of the book. They have already been added to my TBR.
Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed Not Her to be Liked, and I will definitely be picking up any and all future novels by Michelle Quach.