I am already a big Holly Bourne fan, having enjoyed the Spinster Club series and It Only Happens in the Movies, so I was keen to see how her first adult novel would compare. I think existing fans will find a lot to like here, particularly those like me who are a bit older than her previous target market.
I loved the Spinster Club series because it reminded me of the close friendships you have in high school, which are difficult to maintain as an adult. How Do You Like Me Now?, on the other hand, kicked me right back into the present, where I live 400 miles from most of my friends, and Facebook has clocked up two ‘new baby’ announcements and five weddings this month (and you know they come in threes).
The novel’s main character is Tori Bailey, a woman who has built a successful career on the back of a self-help book. Written in her late twenties, it described how she – for want of a better term – ‘found herself’, not to mention the perfect man.
Six years later, so much has changed and yet not enough has changed. Social media is a huge source of her unhappiness, exacerbating her issues with her appearance and the fear of feeling left behind:
‘There are endless likes and endless comments as everyone dutifully validates people making socially-acceptable decisions at the socially-acceptable age to make them.’
She doesn’t just compare her life to everyone’s highly edited highlight reels, however; she’s constantly trying to maintain the illusion of her own. Her publisher and her readers are desperate for her next novel, and Tori, who became famous for her brutal honesty, has no idea what to tell them. The more her personal and public lives diverge, the worse she feels.
I’ll be honest: I found Tori’s mind quite a toxic place to be at times, but I can’t deny that some of the early cynical conversations with her best friend, Dee, are VERY familiar:
‘If one more person tells me they’re marrying their best friend I will run out of vomit.’
I also think it was honest to show that her happiness for others is sometimes tempered by her own unhappiness.
As I mentioned before, the feeling that her life isn’t perfect enough is linked to social media:
‘I scroll through filters and add a vignette to hide the fact we’re just in some toilets.’
This is one of those ordinary oddities of social media that doesn’t seem too strange until you see it written down. It’s like the moment her friend suggests a café, saying that she hears the coffee is ‘very photogenic’. (I know I’m not the only person who has used the word ‘Instagrammable’ – whether ironic or not, the more times you use a word, the more likely you are to normalise it.) It is easy to forget how potentially harmful it all is, until you spend enough time inside the mind of a character who constantly considers how her life appears to others.
Don’t get me wrong: her cynicism often lends itself to humour, like a wedding clichés drinking game with Dee. I think their friendship brings most of the warmth and humour of the novel. However, when Tori realises that Dee might not be the last singleton standing, it just reminds her of her own unhappiness. I felt like the changing dynamics of their friendship were handled with honesty. I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoilers!
Another significant secondary, if rage-inducing, character is Tori’s boring boyfriend. I don’t know if we could have used more stories about their early relationship to care about them at all as a couple, but I think it’s important that we don’t. (Or I didn’t!) And perhaps that would have been too much of a tangent, given that it’s really about Tori finding herself. (Again.) I started wondering what it would be like to meet the character on her road trip or just before she writes her book, even though it would be quite poignant after this.
The issues dealt with in How Do You Like Me Now? will hit a nerve for many readers, but I think the story will resonate most particularly with those of us currently in our late twenties/early thirties. It feels Bridget Jones-esque, the huge difference being the prevalence of social media in Tori’s life. This isn’t something that has been dealt with much outside of YA, but it’s going to be something that adult fiction has to start considering, given that we now have a generation of adults that has grown up online. It doesn’t always make for comfortable reading, but that’s exactly what makes it ring true.
Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the chance to read this!