Book Review: What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume

Guillaume's debut YA novel chooses to uplift rather than shoot teenagers in a barrel. And that's laudable.
Book Review: What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume

Jenna Guillaume's What I Like About Me.

Is The Catcher in the Rye still acceptable for YA readers? How about The Bell Jar? While both novels have been hugely influential to generations and likely always will be, it’s hard to imagine Holden Caulfield’s rants as Facebook posts. And what if Esther Greenwood could have Googled her questions about sex and social norms? Today’s teen novels need to address new age issues while also relating to that awkward phase between child and adult.

Former editor of Girlfriend magazine’s sealed section and now-ex Buzzfeed editor Jenna Guillaume has spent her career entertaining and educating that age group most of us can’t seem to ever get through to. She’s answered almost every gooey and awkward question they couldn’t ask out loud but would submit anonymously in writing. She also spent five years writing articles like 'Classic Books Are Full Of Trash Men, But More Importantly: Which Will You Bang?' and 'Everyone Has A "Dumplin'" Character That Matches Their Personality – Here's Yours'.

Through a chatty, dear-dairy narrative, What I Like About Me follows sixteen-year-old Maisie Martin through her summer holidays. Writing in her journal, Maisie endures and learns from family, friends and the opposite sex. And life doesn’t get any easier when she decides to enter a beauty pageant with body image issues.

‘Leila, it’s okay. I know I’m not beautiful. I’m fat.'
‘And why can’t you be both?’ she said with a smile. 

What I Like About Me is genuinely funny at times with relatable characters which will surely make teens feel less alien. It also aims to uplift our youngest members of society by confronting beauty norms portrayed in the media and online – something Guillaume would have experienced herself after over a decade in the industry. Her experience lets her address important teen issues without being iconic or losing her ability to be entertaining and fun.

The young characters in longstanding YA novels are too scandalous today to do what they did then. They’re also completely unaware of online shaming, anonymous insults and everything else online platforms give and take from today’s teenagers.

Coming of age in the new age requires fresh narratives in unsure times, and Guillaume chooses to uplift rather than shoot teenagers in a barrel. She teaches body positivity, support networks and shuns not talking about your problems. And that’s laudable.

Rating: 3 stars ★★★
What  I Like About Me
By Jenna Guillaume

Pan Macmillan Australia
ISBN: 9781760559120
Format: Paperback
Pub Date: 26/02/2019
Category: Children's, Teenage & educational / General fiction (Children's / Teenage)
Teenage & Young Adult Fiction / Young Adult
Imprint: Pan Australia
Pages: 256
Price: $16.99

James Arbuthnott

Thursday 7 March, 2019

About the author

James Arbuthnott is a regional journalist in the Campaspe area, Victoria and book reviewer at ArtsHub Australia. Twitter: @we_forgot