Have you ever felt that despite all the good, hard work you’ve done, there is always someone else who gets more accolades for accomplishing less? If you identify as a woman, it is much more likely that you have experienced such a thing in your lifetime. If you are Eliza Quan, you have just entered this exact scenario.
Eliza, the Sino-Vietnamese American heroine of Michelle Quach’s wonderful debut novel Not here to be loved, is Editor-in-Chief of Willoughby High School Bugle and worked tirelessly with the newspaper team for years. She ran unopposed for editor-in-chief until the last minute, when Eliza was told of another candidate: Leonard “Len” DiMartile, an incredibly charming, half-white, half-Japanese former basketball player.
Now, Eliza is not sympathetic, and she knows it. She does not dress to impress or change her attitude to suit the social situation. She relies on her brain and her first-rate expertise to make it happen. So when a guy with little expertise and a load of charisma comes out at the eleventh hour and walks away with the position she’s worked for for years, it’s not a pretty sight.
In a fit of cathartic vexation, Eliza pours her heart into a Google Doc on a newsroom computer. She covers everything from Len’s considerable inexperience to institutionalized sexism in Willoughby in general. She is interrupted before she finishes, but that does not prevent someone from concluding on her behalf and printing the manifesto as Bugle news online the next day.
The coin is removed immediately, but there is no deactivation of this bell. Eliza finds herself seen as the voice of feminism in Willoughby, and she takes up the challenge. But how to âresolveâ sexism from an already deeply misogynistic framework? How do you fight all the hatred that this world seems to carry, in high school and beyond?
Worse yet, Eliza is so blinded by her instant label of Len as “the face of patriarchy” that she doesn’t give her a chance. The more she gets to know him, the more she grows to love him. But following through with his plans will kill any budding affection between them, just as surely as hooking up with Len will completely undermine his activism. What’s a girl to do?
‘Not Here to Be Liked’ is a truly excellent book, led by two captivating main characters and an author who does not shy away from touching on weighty topics.
Not here to be loved is a truly excellent book, led by two captivating main characters and an author who does not hesitate to tackle weighty topics. Through Eliza’s eyes, readers experience perspectives on menstruation, jokes about blondes, and how the definition of feminism is not the same for everyone. And how much effort a woman goes to make the act of being a woman seem effortless. Or how being loved is valued much more in today’s society than being smart or good. Or how we can “take action” without taking action at all. And on top of all this, Quach explores the wonderfully specific and different experiences of the myriad cultures that fall under the umbrella of âAsianâ in America.
As broad as these topics may present themselves, Eliza and Len’s story unfolds smoothly, interspersed with lively dialogue from one scandalous incident to the next. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the common sense heroine and the handsome hero who both challenges and respects her.
In his heart, Not here to be loved is a thoughtful discussion of what makes each of us different and what brings us together despite these differences. You don’t have to worry about being loved, but Quach’s novel is definitely here to be loved!
Alethea Kontis is an award-winning voice actor and author of over 20 books for children and adolescents.
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