The last thing sixteen-year-old Maisie Martin thought she’d be doing on her vacation is entering a beauty pageant. Not when she’s spent most of her life hiding her body from everyone. Not when her Dad is AWOL and her gorgeous older sister has returned to rock Maisie’s already shaky confidence. And especially not when her best friend starts flirting with the boy she’s always loved. But Maisie’s got something to prove. As she writes down all the ways this vacation is going from bad to worse in her school-assignment journal, what starts as a homework torture-device might just end up being an account of how Maisie didn’t let anything, or anyone, hold her back. Jenna Guillame’s American debut features a plus-size protagonist with a compelling, funny, and authentic narrative voice. This relatable and charming novel about friendship, confidence, and self-love will draw readers in as Maisie’s realistic emotional journey unveils the importance of embracing one’s body and celebrating one’s self.
What I Like about MeFeatured
This year, things are a little different - her father is staying behind to work, her best friend Anna is coming along, and she was also given a homework assignment that her mother is enforcing to keep a Discovery Journal, where she writes her discoveries and the evidence behind them. The book we read is what she eventually affectionately calls her DJ.
As she struggles with her family, not only her parents but also her perfect and judgmental older sister Eva, and her crush having fallen for Anna, she makes new friends in the eccentric but friendly girl whose mother owns a B&B and dreams of being a fashion designer and begins to spend more time with Seb's annoying (or maybe not so annoying) best friend, Beamer, who always seems to be around. And, maybe, this will be the year she enters the beauty pageant she always said she'd enter with her sister (who entered and won alone when she was 16).
What I loved: The conversational writing and diary format were truly excellent at getting into Maisie's thoughts and characters, and I loved the mix of comedy in with the serious. There's a lot to love in the story, including romance, laugh-out-loud moments, and ultimately body positivity. Maisie is such a heartfelt and charming character, and I would love to put her story into the hands of young people who need to learn to love themselves more. Her journey is not always easy, but it is beautiful and genuine. I really appreciated the important conversations she has with others along the way, and in particular, Bess, who has come from where Maisie was to a place where she can love herself no matter her size. These, combined with the clear negativity of problematic messages Maisie frequently receives that young people will definitely have heard (stores don't carry certain sizes, inaccurate laziness attribution, off-hand comments, etc.), make for a really powerful theme.
The romance was totally charming, and I loved the way it all came together. I was definitely cheering for the person Maisie ends up with the whole way through, and I loved the way it built through her discoveries and related retellings.
Other important themes were about friendship, support, and family. It becomes readily apparent that Maisie's best friend, Anna, is not such a great friend, in no small part because of the way she views and treats Maisie. This is juxtaposed with Maisie's new fashion-designer friend, Leila, who has a different approach that shows the value of a real good friend. In addition, as we learn more about Eva and the way things happened in the past to where she is now, we also see character growth and a path forward for family/sibling love.
What left me wanting more: As a small point, I would have loved to learn more about other characters, particularly Beamer, to really dive deeper into their emotions and lives as well. As Maisie already knows him, we don't get to learn as much about his life and feelings as I wish we could (but we do still get a lot of fun tidbits throughout).
Final verdict: Charming, empowering, and comedic, WHAT I LIKE ABOUT ME is a fabulous YA contemporary read with important themes around body positivity, self-acceptance, relationships, and support. Highly recommend for fans of ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL FRONTAL SNOGGING, ALL-AMERICAN GIRL, and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS.