Title: Maybe He Just Likes you
Author: Barbara Dee
Publisher: Aladdin, October 1st 2019
Themes: #MeTooK12, #MeToo, sexual harassment, bullying, middle grade, finding one’s voice, support, boundaries, consent,
Thank you to the publisher for my review copy.
I also understand that sometimes you reach a point where the only thing that matters is being heard. No, not just heard. Listened to, right?
Barbara Dee explores the subject of #MeToo for the middle grade audience in this heart-wrenching—and ultimately uplifting—novel about experiencing harassment and unwanted attention from classmates.
For seventh grader Mila, it starts with an unwanted hug on the school blacktop.
The next day, it’s another hug. A smirk. Comments. It all feels…weird. According to her friend Zara, Mila is being immature, overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?
But it keeps happening, despite Mila’s protests. On the bus, in the halls. Even during band practice-the one time Mila could always escape to her “blue-sky” feeling. It seems like the boys are EVERYWHERE. And it doesn’t feel like flirting–so what is it?
Mila starts to gain confidence when she enrolls in karate class. But her friends still don’t understand why Mila is making such a big deal about the boys’ attention. When Mila is finally pushed too far, she realizes she can’t battle this on her own–and finds help in some unexpected places. (Publisher)
Why I like this book:
This story of a 7th grade girl standing up and finding her voice is timely, masterful and empowering. Barbara Dee nails the confusion and questions of this age with nuance. And this is the first middle grade novel I have read that deals specifically with sexual harassment and not just bullying. Kudos for naming it for what it is here, Barbara, and with such a realistic scenario.
Mila is a regular middle school kid with a good group of friends and a happy home, but then weird stuff starts happening to her at school, and more than anything she is confused. Boys asking for birthday hugs when it isn’t even close to their birthday. At first she thinks it’s the fuzzy green sweater and her changing body. But even after discarding that, in a baggy flannel shirt borrowed from her mom, someone grabs her butt. Mila is as confused ad she is uncomfortable with this behavior from boys in her class, and does the typical self-doubting of someone her age.
My heart ached with the all too typical reality of her friends not fully getting her distress. Apart from her supportive gay friend, Max, the girls in her friendship group shift from downplaying the harassment to hinting that Mila might have some blame. She’s a self reflective kid and her decision to confront the friend and keep the friendship albeit at some distance rocks, and we love the courage it takes a 7th grader to do this.
Not all the adults in her life are as supportive as her mom and her music teacher eventually prove to be, and I felt this also rooted this novel in gritty reality. As the cool title suggests, there is still a pervasive view among many adults and young people that the sort of behavior the boys display in this novel is just playful and harmless. But over time, she realizes, the boys doing this are disrespecting her by using her body for a game. She sees them, and their selfish use of space, for what they are. And, in ways big and small, she decides to reclaim her space in the world. I closed the book so satisfied that justice had been served, but not in ways malicious or mean (even if that would have been ok too). Mila was empowered to be herself, whatever that may entail.
Her single mom quits her job part way through and understandably even though she has a great relationship with her mom, Mila is reluctant to add more stress to her mom’s life by sharing her worries. This context ups the tension, which Barbara creates so well in this page-turner. A new karate class is part of Mila’s growing self-confidence as the novel progresses. Things come to a head before and during a band recital leading her band teacher to investigate Mila’s outburst rather than just punish her. This teacher helps Mila put the right word, sexual harassment, to what the boys had been doing as she recognized the inappropriateness immediately. Her teacher helps her understand that she is being sexually harassed and gives her the courage to confront her harassers.
The resolution is super satisfying and the boys are not simply demonized. A community meeting finally brings an end to the behavior. The boys’ responses play the gamut of possibilities from genuine remorse to simply agreeing to cease the harassment. While we would love all the boys to have a moment of remorseful enlightenment, it felt real that not all have fully grasped how unacceptable their unwanted remarks and touching were to this young lady.
As a society we have been silent far too long about sexual harassment. Books like this, alongside the #MeToo movement, and the #MeTooK12 movement, are vital to help kids learn about respect, consent, and boundaries. I shall be book-talking this novel to our Middle Schoolers and will highly encourage it to be used in the classroom. I think Barbara Dee has outdone herself with this sensitive topic and the portrayal of this sensitive character growing through the confusion to stand up and find her voice.
Fabulous resources at this website: https://stopsexualassaultinschools.org/january-campaign/
See a Q&A, interview and more with Barbara on the Simon and Schuster Website.