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Eliza Quan is the perfect candidate for editor in chief of her school paper. That is, until ex-jock Len DiMartile decides on a whim to run against her. Suddenly her vast qualifications mean squat because inexperienced Len—who is tall, handsome, and male—just seems more like a leader.
When Eliza’s frustration spills out in a viral essay, she finds herself inspiring a feminist movement she never meant to start, caught between those who believe she’s a gender equality champion and others who think she’s simply crying misogyny.
Amid this growing tension, the school asks Eliza and Len to work side by side to demonstrate civility. But as they get to know one another, Eliza feels increasingly trapped by a horrifying realization—she just might be falling for the face of the patriarchy himself.
For a book with an unlikable protagonist, I liked Eliza Quan so much.
Not Here To Be Liked is an utterly provoking story about feminism, identity, and belonging. More, it is a book about the nuances of these reckonings as well as coming to terms with your own beliefs being challenged while growing with it!
We follow Eliza’s journey as a rigid character to someone who constantly questions her own ideas. What really makes NHTBL unique, in my opinion, is that Michelle never tells us how to be a feminist. Through Eliza, the readers are able to grasp different identities that intersect with one another–such as Eliza’s positionally as an Asian American–along with how she and her friends see the world. With so many different upbringings and a diverse cast, we see what feminism means to them and how they use feminism as a vehicle towards their own version of justice. NHTBL acknowledges the flawed and exclusionary movement that is white feminism and offers a different approach. One that allows the readers to question things alongside Eliza. In a way, I felt like I was growing with her.
Another aspect of the book that I deeply adore and feel eternally grateful to Michelle for including is Eliza’s socioeconomic status. Once again tying in the intersection of race, class, and gender, Eliza is not a feminist who didn’t understand the struggles of marginalized communities. Because Eliza grew up with these experiences, she herself understands the intricacies of the institution that forces them to be where they are. Her family dynamic reflects my own, and I’m sure many other’s, giving us a nuanced portrait of Asian America that is not Hollywood crazy rich Asians.
Overall, NHTBL is an excellent debut. More than just a YA novel, NHTBL should be treated as a handbook to feminism and the start of someone’s feminist reckoning. It is digestible, funny, and reminds us that justice has many faces.
1) What prompted you to write a feminist-centric book? Did any particular books/works/essays inspire it?
I actually didn’t set out to write a book about feminism—originally, I just knew I wanted to write a rom-com! But when I thought about the conflict between Eliza and Len, and considered what themes would come out of that, exploring feminism seemed like a natural fit for the story.
2) I really liked Eliza’s reflections as an Asian American throughout the book, how did your own experience shape her thoughts?
Like Eliza, I’m ethnically Chinese but my family is from Vietnam, and although there has been more Asian representation in recent years (yay!), I hadn’t really seen that specific identity in many young adult books. So I wanted to capture those details that have always been part of my reality—the mixing of cultures and cuisines, the code-switching—and make them part of Eliza’s reality, too.
3) Eliza’s family dynamic heavily mirrors my own and a lot of first-gen’s, how did you go about including that piece and introducing an untraditional concept of family?
Even though the main plot of the story isn’t about family, Eliza’s definitely informs who she is and how she views the world. Being a child of immigrants, especially immigrants who were refugees, shapes a lot of her experience—for example, the way she and her sister Kim are expected to help their parents with “adult” stuff that requires knowledge of English. I know a lot of teens have to play that role in their families, too, so I hope those scenes will make them feel seen.
4) I loved how you introduced different perspectives of feminism through the different characters. Which character did you like writing the most?
I’d say Serena. She’s exactly the kind of cool girl that she appears to be, and yet also, isn’t what you’d expect!
5) If you could make a playlist for NHTBL, what songs would be included on it?
“Seashore” by The Regrettes
“The Man” by Taylor Swift
“You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me” by The Miracles
“Falling for U” by Peachy! & mxmtoon
“Build a Bitch” by Bella Poarch
Michelle Quach (rhymes with “rock”) is a graphic designer and writer living in Los Angeles. She’s Chinese-Vietnamese-American and a graduate of Harvard University, where she studied history and literature. She loves rom-coms, characters who don’t always do the right thing, and any dog that kind of looks like her dog.
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