Review: What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter

“That’s the problem with words. In my head, words are magic. My thoughts are eloquent and fierce. On the page, words are music. In the clicks of my keyboard, in the scratches of pencil meeting paper. In the beauty of the eraser, of the backspace key. On the page, the words in my head sing and dance with the precision of diction and the intricacies of rhythm. Out loud? Words are the worst.”

|| Goodreads ||

Can a love triangle have only two people in it? Online, it can… but in the real world, it’s more complicated. In this debut novel Marisa Kanter explores what happens when internet friends turn into IRL crushes.

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. 

As many readers can probably relate to, this book presented the perfect opportunity for me to temporarily put my own IRL stressors on the backburner and step into the split, melodramatic reality of Halle/Kels. And I loved every second of it. What I Like About You features a main character named Halle Levitt in real life and is better known as Kels online. She runs a YA book blog called One True Pastry where she bakes and decorates cupcakes to recreate book covers. But while Kels has become a sensation online, Halle in real life is escaping her filmmaker parents’ transient lifestyle to live with her brother and grandpa in a quiet town in Connecticut while she finishes high school and prepares to apply for college.

The central dilemma of the book is clear: Halle uses an online pseudonym named Kels and ends up meeting an internet friend of her pseudonym, Nash. The problem is they meet IRL where she is known as Halle Levitt and not Kels. Starstruck and bewildered about what to do, Halle does the only safe thing she knows to do: nothing. She doesn’t tell Nash when he introduces himself that she already knows who he is because she is also known as Kels, his BFF Twitter mutual. The 400 pages following the meet-cute moment begs the question: will she or won’t she come clean about being both Halle and Kels?

What I Like About You is unfortunately one of those YA reads that get bombarded with poor reviews for featuring a main character that is “too childish.” So let’s talk about it.

This book’s plot is built on a simple misunderstanding that could be explained in the better part of two seconds and the book could be over before it began. But my question to people who complain about stories like this one is: well, what would be the point otherwise? The plot is intentionally drawn out to build the characters, add circumstances, and raise the stakes. For every day that passes where Halle grows closer to Nash without telling him the truth, we as readers know the fallout is going to get *that* much worse. That is the whole appeal of the book.

Personally, I think Kanter did an excellent job at creating a fulfilling, meaningful plotline even if it is built upon a simple misunderstanding. Outside of the love interest, this book handles topics such as transient parents and how parents who are constantly career-chasing impacts their children’s development. It explores grief with the loss of a loved one and how that loss impacts remaining familial relationships. It features a main character exploring and embracing Judaism and Jewish heritage. It is a warming coming-of-age story that features a main character preparing for the transition to college. In other words, there is a lot more going on than just Halle and Nash’s internet/IRL drama. And I think it’s very unfortunate that the other salient themes of this book get drowned out by people complaining about the foundation of the plot.

Overall, I really enjoyed the story Kanter created. It’s funny, entirely human, and a perfect opportunity to indulge in another person’s melodrama. The romance between Halle and Nash is sweet and I adored reading about Halle’s online world. Don’t let the foundation of the plot steer you away from this one. I promise it’s a pleasant read.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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