Rarely does a novel change your whole perspective on dating and friendship. But for me, How Do You Like Me Now? did just that.
This is young adult author Holly Bourne’s first foray into adult writing, and it perfectly addresses the storm of emotions you go through as a young woman, growing up in a world where you need to have the best boyfriend, best career and best group of friends.
(And it’s all got to be displayed beautifully across your social media profiles.)
The novel follows the life of Tori Bailey, a successful self-help author in her early 30s, who constantly compares herself to her friends and seeks validation from social media.
At the forefront, though, is the dysfunctional long-term relationship that she can’t bring herself to leave, with a build-up of events played out over nine months.
“Month by month I was testing the reader’s patience,” Bourne tells the BBC.
“Each month you’d be like, ‘She’s still not left him’, and I wanted to explore all the reasons why a woman would not leave a relationship that was so clearly making her unhappy and you could argue was massively damaging her.”
The author describes Tori’s relationship as “at the mildest unhealthy and, in my mind, abusive” and says this issue is something she wants to “blow the lid off”.
“I wanted to show that women in these types of relationships aren’t battered, world weary, meek or have let themselves go.
“Abuse is actually attracted to strong and confident women and there is this huge juxtaposition between the Tori she presents to the world and who she is behind closed doors.”
Bourne did a lot of research before writing the book, and was frustrated to speak to women who seemed powerful but had relationships that were “eroding and sucking them dry”.
The author is best known for her young adult series The Spinster Club and is credited for introducing feminist talking points to a teenager audience.
This is a concept Bourne wanted to explore in her adult writing too.
“I feel like the fourth wave of feminism has been really interesting and woken a lot of women up, because we’ve been socialised into a particular way of being,” she says.
“We think, ‘You’re still nobody unless you’ve got a man’, and there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance going on and that causes discomfort and I wanted the book to explore that.
“There is this gap between it being normal as a heterosexual woman to want to find a man, but now that we’re ‘woke’ it’s quite hard to find a man who is at your level.”
Bourne also wanted to explore how feminism works in female friendships too, and found that competition was more often on the cards than camaraderie.
“Women to some degree feel like success in any given field is limited and therefore you’ll have to fight other women for it,” she says.
“I have this poster in my room that says ‘Her success is not your failure’ – because I feel whether it’s ‘getting a boyfriend’ or ‘getting your dream job’, women have been socialised to compete.
“If you can build each other up its really empowering and important rather than tearing each other down. But it is so hard.
“I do feel like women feel they are constantly in competition with each other – even their friends who they love and adore and do want to be happy.”
Bourne says social media has exacerbated the problem because it “pressures women to hit certain milestones by certain ages in order to be deemed successful”.
She says: “You used to not know that the girl from school that you didn’t like anyway had a beautiful wedding and has a child or has got the dream job – but now you have a constant reminder.”
Bourne also says a lot of authors don’t want to write about social media because the platforms date so easily – but she “had to go there”.
“It’s part of everybody’s life and it’s changing the way we think, feel and behave,” she says.
“For my young readers this is all they’ve ever known and I kind of feel sorry for them.
“The school bell would go at 3.30 and that was it, I didn’t have to deal with anything the next day, whereas they’re just immersed in that all the time.”
And there’s one last thing Bourne wants to get across to her new adult readers too – the importance of looking after your mental health.
“There are a lot of therapists in my young adult books because I want to show that actually going to talk to somebody about the quicksand you can’t get out of is a massively empowering and positive thing to do.
“My personal belief is that everyone needs a bit of therapy and if everyone hit 25 and had like 12 compulsory sessions and asked, ‘Why do I do the things I do?’ then the world would be much better.
“I feel like I try very hard in my life not to tell people what to think, feel or believe and you write stories that you hope ask the right questions for themselves.”
How Do You Like Me Now? is out now.