Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?
Marisa Kanter: The inspiration for What I Like About You came from the close friendships I’ve made thanks to the internet. Since joining online writing and book blogging communities as a teenager, I’ve made some of my best friends in these digital spaces. As an adult, I’ve been lucky to meet many of them in person. But I wondered, how would I have reacted if I had met one of my internet friends as teen? Like Halle, I probably would’ve been scared of not living up to my profile. I wanted to explore this tension between the personas we craft online versus who we are in real in life, and a romcom seemed like both a natural and fun way to approach this subject. So I wrote a love triangle with only two people in it! Also, it was important to me to write a romcom starring Jewish teens that were simply existing in the context of their romcom problems—something I would’ve loved to see as a teen.
What character do you most relate to and why?
Without a doubt, the character I most relate to in What I Like About You is Halle. Because the inspiration for this story came from a personal place and based on my experience as a former book blogger, Halle and I have a lot in common. Like Halle, as a teen I dreamed of moving to NYC and having a career in publishing. Also, Halle’s social anxiety is written from a very real place. Like Halle, I often feel more confident typing words from behind a screen rather than speaking them out loud. Like Halle, I have also grappled with feelings of being either too Jewish or not Jewish enough, depending on who I’m with. I put a lot of myself into Halle—my interests, my anxieties, my culture. However, Halle and I do not share her baking skills, unfortunately. When it comes to baking, I am much more like Nash—I prefer eating cupcakes to baking them.
Why do you feel books with powerful and relatable characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?
As a reader, I have always been drawn to character driven stories where the voice jumps off the page. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I primarily read YA and romance—authors of these genres have such an incredible handle on voice. In particular, the romcom renaissance we are seeing right now has been such a joy to experience as a reader and be a part of as an author. These are the stories I have always sought, but to see them have such mainstream commercial success has been so exciting, especially as the genre diversifies. Books with powerful and relatable characters will always be popular, but I think romcoms are having their moment because when the world is hard, romcoms are safe pockets of joy. Who doesn’t want to absorb themselves in a story with a guaranteed happily ever after right now?
Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from the read.
What I Like About You is a young adult romcom that asks the question: is it still a love triangle if there are only two people in it? In real life, Halle Levitt is a socially anxious bookworm. Online, she’s Kels, a popular YA book blogger who pairs YA books with cupcakes. When Halle moves in with her grandfather at the beginning of her senior year, she runs into Nash, her internet best friend. She knows who Nash is, but he has no clue who she is. Afraid that her socially anxious self will not live up to her profile, Halle does not tell him who she is, choosing to keep their friendship online and believing everything will be fine. It is not fine! Because while Halle starts to develop feelings for Nash—he’s in love with her online persona, Kels. Outside of the romance, there is a dynamic group of friends, sibling love, Dad emojis, #ownvoices Jewish representation, and navigating the intersection between grief and mental health. But ultimately, What I Like About You is a love letter to internet friendship, YA books, and cupcakes!
What’s next for you in the book world?
I have a second YA romcom publishing next year with S&S. I can’t say too much yet, but if What I Like About You is a love letter to book bloggers, my second book is a love letter to theater. I cannot wait until I can share more!
Who is your favorite writer right now and why?
Becky Albertalli’s books mean the world to me—The Upside of Unrequited was the first time I read a Jewish character starring in a romcom. Becky crafts such relatable characters and inclusive worlds, it almost impossible to believe her characters aren’t real people. And because I can’t choose just one and want to shout out more of my faves, my current list of auto-buy authors if you’re looking for stories that will give you all the feels includes Rachel Lynn Solomon, Sandhya Menon, Morgan Matson, Brandy Colbert, and Jenn Dugan.
What’s your favorite YA romantic comedy as of right now?
Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon! It’s not out until July, but this romcom about academic rivals falling for each other over the last twenty-four hours of their senior year is everything. The chemistry between the romantic leads is top notch and I swear, you will not be able to stop smiling. It’s just a perfect, joyful book to escape into right now.