Review: Jenna Guillaume ‘What I Like About Me’

Get swept up in the magic of summer with the heartfelt diaries of Maisie Martin, a sixteen-year-old whose struggle against insecurities and body image can teach us all a thing or two about loving ourselves.

Get swept up in the magic of summer with the heartfelt diaries of Maisie Martin, a sixteen-year-old whose struggle against insecurities and body image can teach us all a thing or two about loving ourselves.

If you find yourself sucked into the endless scroll through any YA hashtag on Instagram, you’ll have come across Jenna Guillaume’s debut novel What I Like About Me. The colourful cover would be enough to catch anyone’s eye, but pair it with a synopsis that instantly makes you root for the main character and you’ll find yourself hunting down a copy ASAP.

Personally, I’ve been a little late to the What I Like About Me party. I waited not-so-patiently for the book to arrive at my local library, avoiding reviews and spoilers because who doesn’t love to read a novel with unbiased eyes? Once I finally got my hands on the book, its arrival happened to coincide with a hectic week of freelance writing which, sadly, I had to prioritise. (Somehow I don’t think the excuse of, ‘But I really wanted to read this book!’ would cut it if I missed deadline). I eventually decided to stay up into the night to read this novel and let me tell you: it was worth the wait.

What I Like About Me follows the story of Maisie Martin, a sixteen-year-old girl forced to keep a discovery journal for school through her summer holidays. Maisie travels to the same caravan park with her family each Christmas to catch up with old friends—in particular, her lifelong crush Sebastian Lee. This year, however, marks a few differences in Maisie’s usual summer routine. She invites her best friend Anna along for the ride, spends more time with Sebastian’s irritating friend Beamer, worries about her dad’s absence, and quietly dreads a forthcoming reunion with her older sister, Eva.

It’s a summer of change for Maisie, in more ways than one. But of course, the most poignant aspect of this novel lies in the internal struggles of our protagonist as she battles against the relentless bully that is negative body image. Maisie isn’t built like the women around her and it’s a difference that she carries far too heavily on her shoulders. We follow her struggle as she hides her body on the beach, choosing to swelter through the heat rather than expose any insecurities. Her confidence falls with every baggy shirt she hides behind until she decides to do something for herself, regardless of what others may think: Maisie enters the Miss Teen Summer Queen beauty pageant. From that moment on, we have the absolute privilege of witnessing Maisie’s transformation in all its heartwarming glory.

One of the most important parts of this novel is that the drive behind Maisie’s newfound confidence is not the cliché teen rom-com evolution, where a splash of makeup and switch to contact lenses changes a person’s whole life. Instead, the transformation comes from within. This is such an important message to send not only to the target demographic for What I Like About Me, but for people of all ages and walks of life who don’t feel good enough in their own skin. Maisie’s journey is the perfect embodiment of Roald Dahl’s famous quote, “…if you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

Our main character learns this throughout a transformative summer, and we learn it alongside her as readers. I was pretty much hooked on this book from the beginning, but I knew there was no turning back when I read what has to be one of the most powerful lines I’ve read to date: Maisie says, “I know I’m not beautiful. I’m fat,” to which her new friend replies, “And why can’t you be both?”

To find comfort within ourselves and have confidence in our own bodies is no easy feat. Society teaches us there are boxes we must squeeze ourselves into, that there is just one physical ideal that we all must aspire to. What I Like About Me proves that to be utter rubbish. Life isn’t about meeting the expectations of others; it’s about being exactly the person you were born to be. Whether you’re insecure about your weight or your height, your hair or your skin, being beautiful is about believing in yourself. Strive to be not just comfortable in your own body, but proud of it. Just like Maisie.

This is a book that should be read in schools. It’s a novel that needs to be shared with every person who has ever doubted themselves and let their insecurities run rampant. What I Like About Me is the perfect pick-me-up, the quintessential confidence booster, and exactly the kind of book we need in 2019.

My final comment will only make sense to those who have had the pleasure of reading this novel and that is this: the summer of cricket is the greatest time of the year and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

(Fingers crossed for a sequel where Maisie discovers the wonders of a Day Five run-chase.)

Rating: Not for me | Solid read | Would read again | Exquisite

What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume is available now via Pan Macmillan Australia.

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