My daughter came home from school one day, slamming her backpack on the kitchen table in frustration. “They go ON AND ON about bullying at school, but they never tell people how to deal with it. They need to move past the “don’t bully” crap, because kids do it anyway, and teach us how to deal with it. And THEN they need to start talking about how to deal with sexual harassment, too.”
Just what you want to hear on a sunny Thursday afternoon.
So it was serendipitous that earlier in the day, an email landed in my inbox with a request for me to review Maybe He Just Likes You by author Barbara Dee. My 13-year-old and I both read it – and here’s why we think that everyone needs to read this book.
Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee
Published by Simon and Schuster on October 1, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Social Themes, Bullying, New Experience
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 some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few days later, at recess, one of the boys (and fellow trumpet player) Callum tells Mila it’s his birthday, and asks her for a “birthday hug.” He’s just being friendly, isn’t he? And how can she say no? But Callum’s hug lasts a few seconds too long, and feels…weird. According to her friend, Zara, Mila is being immature and overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?
But the boys don’t leave Mila alone. On the bus. In the halls. During band practice—the one place Mila could always escape.
It doesn’t feel like flirting—so what is it? Thanks to a chance meeting, Mila begins to find solace in a new place: karate class. Slowly, with the help of a fellow classmate, Mila learns how to stand her ground and how to respect others—and herself.
From the author of Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed comes this timely story of a middle school girl standing up and finding her voice.”
Y’all, I don’t think I’ve read a book that spoke to me so much as when I was a 7th grader, reading a forbidden Judy Blume book. In Maybe He Just Likes You, Barbara Dee has captured the awkwardness, the helplessness, the tone, and voice of the middle-schooler, and has written a thought-provoking, relatable story. The book addresses the issue of sexual harassment (and yes, it happens, sadly) in a very age-appropriate way.
I also asked my daughter if she thought this book was appropriate for middle-grade readers and whether should be in their libraries. “Yes,” she said, adding “but some people will still probably be upset about it.”
“Upset about it?”
“Yes,” she replied, “because people don’t think this happens to kids my age. Or they think we shouldn’t be talking about it. But it does.”
Because in this book, while yes, the boys are the ones accused of harassment, they also haven’t been taught that what they are doing is wrong. “It’s just fun!” And while some of Mila’s friends are supportive, others brush her off as either asking for it/bringing it upon herself OR not actually trying hard enough to make it stop.
And with her mom obviously dealing with her own issues, Mila doesn’t want to burden her mom with her issues. (That’s something we can all relate to as well.)
But what good are friends when they don’t listen?Mila, from Maybe He Just Likes You
Or, when the do listen, don’t understand?
I need to take care of myself.
Middle-grade friendships are complicated, and the author depicts this well in the varying responses and reactions to what Mila chooses to share (and what she doesn’t share) with both her friends and with the classmates who become her friend.
Another thing she does extremely well is to capture the voice of the middle schooler. Dee has captured Mila’s voice as well as her anger and fear and frustration. As a reader, it was palpable, and I shared her anger and sense of helplessness.
The empathy with which Mila was shown from unexpected places and the way that the situation was ultimately handled was inspiring. The book acknowledged how hard it is to speak up, and how, when handled appropriately and responsibly by the grownups in the situation, a resolution can be had that leaves the victim empowered. The empowerment that Mila ultimately feels really resonated with me, too. (And I also love the inclusion of the karate class, and its
Dee doesn’t sugar coat it or let the adults off the hook. Some are flawed and dismissive. The adults don’t always hear her, even though they are listening. Thankfully, she balances these characters with others who are empathetic and understanding – when she finally reaches out to them.
This was a well-written, hard-to-put-down story, with just the right ending.
You really need to read Maybe He Just Likes You.
Maybe He Just Likes You is a book that I hadn’t realized that we needed. But we do. Please go read this book, and experience it for yourself.