Maurene Goo’s The Way You Make Me Feel contains all of the perfect ingredients for a great summer read. There’s a blossoming romance, a heartfelt enemies-to-frenemies-to-bffs plot, and it’s all centered around a food truck whose menu will leave your mouth watering. Here, we chat with Goo about her favorite literary friendships, her love of Los Angeles, and the surprising character readers are crushing on.
Bookish: In many ways, this book is a love letter to Los Angeles—the food, the people, the culture, the music. How have your own experiences growing up and living in LA influenced your writing?
Maurene Goo: A lot of reviews of my books mention the “natural diversity” of my characters and this is something that is definitely influenced by my LA upbringing. My high school was incredibly diverse, filled with immigrants and children of immigrants. To write a high school in my books that didn’t feature that sort of demographic would feel weird and unnatural to me. I am incredibly grateful for having that experience which I think is distinctly L.A.
Bookish: Friendship is one of this book’s major themes. Clara outgrows some old friends and even turns an enemy into a new friend. What are some of your favorite friendships in literature?
MG: Oh my god, so many! From my formative reader years, a ton of middle grade series, like the Baby-Sitters Club of course. I also read a few other “friendship” series like the Forever Friends Club, the Saddle Club, Pen Pals, etc. But one that was really seared into my brain was the friendship between Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables. It was so sweet and pure!
Bookish: In recent years, readers have wanted stories that abandon the girls-hating-other-girls trope and embrace the idea of women supporting women. Did that help to inspire this enemies-to-frenemies-to-bffs story?
MG: Yes and no. I’ve always been drawn to strong female friendships in the media I consume, so it wasn’t a super conscious reaction to this shift in publishing, more like what I naturally value. Plus, I love “enemies-to-frenemies-to-bffs” and I did like the special challenge of creating a friendship from scratch, especially one that started off with so much hostility.
Bookish: Both I Believe in a Thing Called Love and The Way You Make Me Feel have a strong father-daughter bond at their core. What draws you to this relationship dynamic?
MG: In the early drafts of this book, I actually resisted focusing on the father-daughter relationship. I didn’t want to be that weirdo who only wrote about dads! But I realized that once I figured Clara out, a big chunk of her growth would have to involve her understanding her dad’s sacrifices and hard work. And I think I’m drawn to fathers and daughters because I’m drawn to families in general. Mothers and daughters will be something I tackle one day in the future, too.
Bookish: Online readers have not been shy about letting you know they are crushing hard on Clara’s dad, the young, tatted food-truck owner. Were you surprised by this reaction or was it one you expected?
MG: Well I have to be honest and say I made Adrian, Clara’s dad, attractive to me, a full-grown adult woman! But I definitely wasn’t expecting this level of love for him. The word “DILF” being associated with my book is one of the best things ever.
Bookish: Clara’s dad owns and operates a Korean and Brazilian fusion food truck and her mom is an Instagram travel and fashion influencer. If you weren’t a writer, which of these jobs would you rather have?
MG: Oooh. I love food but I hate heat and get really annoyed by people, so I think I’d have to go with influencer. Especially if I could get free clothes.
Bookish: Food is intertwined with the concepts of home, family, love, friendship, and identity in this novel. In many ways this is a book about the power of food. What originally inspired the idea of setting the story around a food truck?
MG: I knew I wanted to write a summer job book and an LA book—so the food truck was the perfect solution. It also gave them a reason to be stuck in close quarters together, and to traverse the entire city. Plus, I love food trucks!
Bookish: Clara reinvents herself over the course of the novel. She’s still a sarcastic rule breaker, but she learns to embrace enthusiasm and leave behind the apathy she was using to protect herself. What about her journey do you hope resonates with teen readers?
MG: I think that when you’re a teen, you can be overwhelmed with change. You’re expected to be ready for adulthood, to know what you want to do with the rest of your life, to have mature relationships. But it’s only been like 2.5 years since you had braces, or got your period, or stopped playing with Barbies! So I think it’s easy to retreat into apathy and fear and to not try. Because trying means you can fail and be embarrassed—and those are two things that are literally the worst when you’re in high school. I’m hoping that Clara’s journey shows how sometimes that risk can be worth it, how you can still recover if you fail and everything will be ok. In fact, everything could be better.
Maurene Goo grew up in a Los Angeles suburb surrounded by floral wallpaper, one thousand cousins, and piles of books. She studied communication at UC San Diego and then later received a Masters in publishing, writing, and literature at Emerson College. Before publishing her first book, Since You Asked, she worked in both textbook and art book publishing. She has very strong feelings about tacos and houseplants. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two cats.