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Into YA with Marisa Kanter


I'm so excited to get to introduce today's guest on Into YA, Marisa Kanter! Her debut book, What I Like About You, has been one of my top picks of the year, and I talk about it all the time. I loved getting to read a book that valued online friendship and connection so much, and as strange as it was at times, focused on a book blogger. I've both never felt so seen and called out by a character whose life looked scarily like mine. Also, these teens feel like teens through and through, and Marisa never discounts their potential. It's inspiring to see someone move through the book community from teen blogger to author. Marisa and I discuss that, online personas, who YA is really for, what's next for her career, and more. If you haven't had the chance to read What I Like About You, make sure you check out my review so that you have a bit of context for our conversation. 

1. Halle, or Kels, runs a book blog called One True Pastry where she pairs cupcakes with books. How did you come up with her blog, and how did you make it feel so authentic? I related to so much of what she goes through with the behind the scenes of running her blog.
The inspiration for Halle’s blogging in What I Like About You came from my own experience as a teen book blogger! Like Halle, I reviewed YA books on my own blog for many years. Like Halle, I cold emailed publicists to request ARCs and set up author interviews. Unlike Halle, I did not go viral—I do not have her baking skills! But the authenticity definitely comes from a “write what you know” place. Book blogging during my formative years had such a huge impact—I met some of my best friends, it solidified that I wanted to pursue a publishing career, and it taught me how to review books with a critical eye as I was learning how to write my own stories. I had never read a book before about a book blogger or featuring teens reading YA, which is something I would have loved to have seen. So I wrote the book I would’ve loved to read as a teen blogger!

2. A lot of the conflict in the book comes from Halle feeling insecure about living up to Kels who she sees as the perfect version of herself. What inspired this thread of the book? I think we all use our accounts as a way to project who we want to be to some extent, but it’s only really focused on in places like the beauty industry. Do you think there’s any kind of harm, or on the other hand benefit, in how we’re able to shape our identities online?

This thread of What I Like About You exists because I wanted to explore how the internet has changed our relationship with our own identity. As a teen, I wondered what it would be like to meet my internet friends in person—and I was super torn. What if the effortlessness of our conversations only exists in texts? Teen me, much like Halle, believed that internet friendships were meant to exist online. More than that, I believed the version of myself capable of having such close friendships only existed online. As an adult, I’ve learned that these friendships have never been about being cooler or more approachable online—it’s been about shared interests, about never feeling too insecure to gush for hundreds of words about my favorite book, about finding people who get me.

Social media gives us the power to creatively project ourselves to the world and connect us to people with similar interests, but it’s important to not forget that social media is also a highlight reel—and performative, to a certain extent. But aren’t we also performative in our every day lives? To me the trajectory from meeting someone, to being an acquaintance, to becoming friends is a similar path, whether it’s online or IRL.

 3. I love how much value you place on online friendships. Like Halle, some of my best friends have been made through book Twitter. Nash really proves this as he’s just as caught up with Kels when he has Halle in front of him as before. Was it important to you to showcase the power of these friendships and connections in the book as equal to those Halle eventually makes IRL?
Yes! It was incredibly important for me to present Kels and Nash’s friendship—as well as Kels’s friendships with Amy, Elle, and Samira—in a way that validated internet friendships. I have met so many of my best friends on the internet, friends who live all over the world, and they are such an important part of my life. I’ve been lucky enough to meet many of them in person over the years, and it’s never not been a wonderful and validating experience. At the same time, I’ve known one my closest friends for a decade now and we still have never met. So I wanted to show that these relationships that we form online are just as deep and real and meaningful as the friendships we make IRL. Because I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the people I’ve met thanks to the internet!

 4. Another major plot point in the book that struck me as particularly relevant was the conversation about who YA is for. I thought that Halle and her friends had some really thoughtful things to say on the topic, and it really made me feel respected and validated as a teen blogger. What led you to make that a major point in the book? Teens, as Kels proves, often have to work extra hard to gain a voice in the community. Do you have any thoughts on what the YA community as a whole can do to include teens in more in the conversations around our category?

I’m not a teenager anymore, but I remember the frustration I felt as a teen in this community. I questioned if my voice mattered in YA dicussions—spaces that were dominated by adult readers. I questioned if I, an actual teenager, belonged in these online spaces. But I believed—and still believe—that while YA can be read and enjoyed by people of all ages, it is written for teenagers. I’m in my mid-twenties now and love reading YA, but I know it’s not for me anymore. I am not the target demographic. And that is okay! In terms of why I included it in the book, it felt like it would be dismissive to write about a teen blogger and not include this conversation. Teens deserve to be centered in conversations about YA and, from a blogging perspective, teen reviewers should be able to access early review content. I emphasized to my team that it was important to prioritize arc requests from teen readers, and I also ensured that there would be spaces on my blog tour for teen reviewers. Including teens in publicity opportunities (when possible, as I know there can be legal hoops when it comes to communicating with minors!) is another step this community can take to increase teen inclusion. But first, we still need to do a much better job at listening to the teen voices in the YA community. Because your voices matter. You're why we write. 


5. You’ve worked in publicity, for MTV covering YA, and in other parts of the publishing industry. Did this experience inform your process or how you approached writing your debut?

My experience covering YA books and in the publishing industry didn’t necessarily inform my process—I started writing fiction long before I began working in publishing—but it did inspire all of the publishing elements in the book. When I first started drafting What I Like About You back in 2017, Halle wanted to be an editor because I thought that was the most Publishing job someone could aspire to be. I didn’t start working in publishing until the summer after I started working on this book, first in publicity, then later in sales (the department I’m in now)—and the publishing details became much richer because I got firsthand experience in all the moving pieces of publishing and the various departments. In revisions, Halle became an aspiring publicist and it felt like a perfect fit, both for a character who loves to scream about books and as a way to shine a light on another publishing department!

6. Since What I Like About You has now joined the ranks of my favorite books, I’m going to ask a selfish question. Can you tell me anything about what projects you might have coming next that we can look forward to?

Ah, thank you so much, Lauren! 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. Expect more complex family and friendship dynamics and Jewish feelings. I cannot wait until I can share more!


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