3.5 star, YA

Review: Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach

Emergency Contact meets Moxie in this cheeky and searing novel that unpacks just how complicated new love can get…when you fall for your enemy.

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.

Not Here to Be Liked has left behind an impression on me that is both hard to eloquently write down and make coherent sense. I will try to organize it in some way, but please bear with me.

Firstly, I knew I was in love when I first turned on the audiobook and heard the first few chapters. Eliza Quan is a Vietnamese Chinese girl with parents who immigrated to North America as refugees from the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Her family has kept Chinese roots regardless of living in Vietnam for at least a generation so their household speaks a combination of Vietnamese and Cantonese. I’m just going to say that seeing (or rather, hearing) the Cantonese and every day references mentioned sent a delighted thrill of surprise through me. Like the following quote:

“Make sure you have enough rice to eat.”

Quan family motto

You have no idea how many times I grew up hearing this from my grandparents. It’s why I’m more of a noodle person as an adult because I had way too much rice as a child.

This made me feel like Eliza (and her family) was someone I intimately knew right away. Like she could’ve been a part of my family. Or my boyfriend’s family. It was so surreal to feel represented in fiction because I’m quite used to never seeing that. Even amidst the surge of Asian representation in YA, there was never any protagonist that quite hit the nail like Eliza did for me. (I won’t nitpick that the Cantonese spoken on the audiobook wasn’t quite without an accent, but it was still amazing!).

But aside from my personal connection to Eliza and her family, this book is about feminism. Or rather, the unwitting face of feminism Eliza becomes when someone released her rant – aka manifesto – about losing the school paper’s editor in chief vote. To a boy.

Maybe like most of us, we wouldn’t know what to do when we become the face of feminism among our peers. I sure wouldn’t. So all of a sudden, she’s launched into infamy, targeted by certain classmates with awful comments on social media and scrawled across her locker. Which in and of itself is sexist as the manifesto equally targets Len as the “face of patriarchy”. Why wouldn’t he get equal treatment against him, the target of the paper?

This exploration of “what makes one a feminist” and “how should a feminist act” was one I had to sit with for a while in writing this review. What does one immediately think of when we say “feminism”?

I’m a feminist, not a narcissist.

Eliza Quan

I do applaud Michelle Quach’s thoughts in the form of Eliza’s own internal questions and the different women she wrote about. Eliza definitely sat more in the middle, wanting to do her part, but not knowing if interacting with the enemy Len, made her a hypocrite and a terrible feminist. Her best friend Winona leaned more into the stereotype, for better or worse, that feminism sometimes bring to mind, wherein it’s more synonymous with anti-male. Meanwhile, the popular girl Serena that came into their lives in the aftermath of the manifesto embodied more of social action for something she stood for while not particularly looking or acting a certain way towards men. There was definitely growth in all three girls as they spearheaded the growing feminist movement in their school, but it was interesting noting the different directions each came at this same movement.

Quach also explored a little the impact of Asian cultures in wiring how women think through the experiences and stories Eliza’s mom told her, and the way she wanted her own daughter to behave. I appreciated that too because I can acknowledge it’s definitely there and prevalent in our societies even now. We do need more stories like this among POC communities, although I will also acknowledge it is a clash of Western and Eastern ways of thinking.

The romance, it seemed, fell somewhere behind all of this. It’s probably the only reason why I lowered my rating. I didn’t particularly feel the chemistry between Len and Eliza in their interactions. It could be because she wanted to hold onto her animosity towards him the whole time, but in getting to know Len, I came to realize he’s a pretty good guy and didn’t deserve the “face of the patriarchy” label. Of course, he still got off easy in the eyes of his peers (sexism, am I right?), but he wasn’t the villain the manifesto painted him out to be – or what I thought he’d be coming into this book.

Did I think it was a fun romance still? Sure, it was fine, but if a solid “enemies to lovers” trope is what’s bringing you here, you may need to rethink it a little. It’s definitely not the focus of this story.

All this to say, I reflected a lot as a result of reading this book about feminism and how I see myself, even, as a young woman in my society and among my peers. It’s made me think about how I can fight for equality, not superiority in any one sex, in my own life. And I think that is the point of this book, so it has done the job it’s set out to do.

Because feminism, contrary to popular belief, isn’t about hating on guys…It’s about all of us working toward equality, together.

Overall Recommendation:

Not Here to Be Liked was a wonderful reflection on feminism, especially in a young Asian girl where the culture largely dictated patriarchal values. I really enjoyed seeing the Asian influences and representation in this story, namely because Eliza spoke my language and has a very similar background with my own family. That being said, the book explores what it means to be a feminist in a way that is not condescending and looks at different angles through its various characters. While a romance is also present between Eliza and the “face of the patriarchy” Len, it is by far not the focus so the enemies to lovers storyline wasn’t fully fleshed out to satisfaction for romance lovers. Regardless of that one minor thing, I do think this is a worthwhile novel to pick up for its niche exploration of feminism in an Asian protagonist that sets it apart from other books currently out there. My thoughts may be a little all over the place, but this I know to be true at least.


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