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Book Review: Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

Publisher’s description

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 YouHalfway Normal, and Star-Crossed comes this timely story of a middle school girl standing up and finding her voice.”

Amanda’s thoughts

Let’s start with what I usually save for the end of reviews: Great, important, REAL book. Order this for your libraries, hand it to your middle schoolers, get it up on displays, use it for starting points for discussions. This is about consent and boundaries and respecting girls and not everyone is getting these messages at home.

My son Callum (yep, just like a main character here) is in 8th grade. We have been talking about consent forevvvver. You can hear us here, from some years back, talking about sex on The Longest Shortest Time podcast. My son is absolutely sick of me using every opportunity I can to talk about consent or respect or misogyny. Witness:

He has me listed in his phone not as “Amanda MacGregor, mom” but “Amanda MacGregor, feminist,” because he says I act like that’s my job. And you know what? It is. Because I am trying to offset all of the messages he receives elsewhere about what it means to be a white, cis boy and what he is allowed to do or should feel entitled to.

Which brings us to the book (finally!). Dee does so many really brilliant yet ordinary things with her story. Mila has friends tell her she’s overreacting, that she’s being a baby, that she shouldn’t tattle. She has friends blame her for their actions, tell her they wouldn’t “allow” such things. She has friends offer to go with her to tell someone about the harassment. She has an adult basically tell her that boys will be boys and that it’s her job to ignore their behavior. She has an adult take her seriously and offer up her own stories of harassment. The reactions all feel so genuine. I was brought back to middle school as I read this, thinking of my own experiences with this sort of garbage from boys. The things the boys do may not look like what many people think of as harassment, as troubling. But no one will walk away from this book thinking that. Readers see Mila become scared and uncertain. She doesn’t want to be on the bus with them, she doesn’t want to be alone with them at school. She wants to hide. When she speaks up for herself, the boys say they will stop, but of course they don’t.

I would really love to see this book used as a read aloud for 6th or 7th graders or used in reading circles. There is SO MUCH to talk about. Outside of the main issue, Mila is also dealing with her parents being split up, her mom working an unsatisfactory job and looking for a new job, and their family’s money struggles. She makes new friends throughout the course of the story and finds a new interest, karate, which helps empower her. Her tight friendships change as everyone makes new friends and finds new interests. And while Mila learns that she’s certainly not the only girl to go through this kind of bullying and harassment, the boys who perpetuate this behavior come to finally understand just what they are doing and how it’s making Mila (and other girls) feel.

This look at consent, guilt, blame, pressure, and obligation will inspire much needed conversations for middle grade readers and the adults in their lives. Mila learns to speak up and draw the line, but ultimately, it’s not up to girls to end this—it’s up to boys (and those of us raising them and teaching them) to learn how to not do these things in the first place. This important and well-written story will surely find many readers who will relate to both sides of this experience.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534432376
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/01/2019

Maybe He Just Likes You: #MeToo Comes to Middle Grade, a guest post by Barbara Dee

MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU begins with a hug. It’s the seventh grade recess, and as Mila celebrates her friend’s birthday, suddenly the  “basketball boys” are surrounding them, locking arms, singing “Happy Birthday” way too loudly.

Friendly, right? Sweet but extremely awkward– basically what you’d expect from middle school boys.

Except the hug continues a few seconds past the ending of the song. And Mila feels squeezed, like she can’t breathe.

Afterwards, there’s more unwanted contact–all targeting Mila, all of it happening when adults aren’t around. Bumping, grabbing, sitting too close. Then comments about her body. Jokes that aren’t really jokes at all. Finally a “scorecard” that turns contact with Mila into a team sport.

 

As the boys’ behavior escalates, Mila feels humiliated and confused. When she tells the boys to stop, they just laugh and continue. She doesn’t know how to ask for help; she doesn’t even know how to talk about it.  Because what is this behavior, exactly? It’s not just teasing (as a male guidance counselor, lacking all the details, suggests ). It’s not just bullying, at least not like the kind Mila witnessed in elementary school. And she rejects her friend Zara’s argument that one boy is “flirting” because he “just likes her.” To Mila the behavior feels aggressive, even threatening. And shouldn’t flirting feel better than that? On both sides?  

In her gut, Mila knows she’s encountering something new. But she doesn’t have a way to conceptualize what’s happening to her. She doesn’t know words like micro-aggression or sexual harassment. Or, for that matter, consent and boundaries.   

And how would she? Those words are rarely included in the middle school curriculum–and I think it’s time for that to change. Because even if middle schoolers are squeamish and uncomfortable, even if in some ways they seem too “immature” for these topics, we can’t postpone talking about concepts like consent and boundaries until high school (or even college). As many recent studies prove, middle school is where sexual harassment begins. So if we’re going to stop the behavior,  we need to address it at inception.

The difficult part is how. I’m not going to lie–writing MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU was one of my biggest challenges as a middle grade author. I’ve explored some sensitive topics before.  Eating disorders in EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT YOU. Pediatric cancer in HALFWAY NORMAL.  A girl’s crush on another girl in STAR-CROSSED. In all of those books, I felt I could treat the topic directly, as long as I wove in other plot threads and plenty of humor.

But the topic of sexual harassment is different, because for many gatekeepers, acknowledging the sexuality of middle schoolers is taboo. So I had to strike a very delicate balance with this book: I had to keep the harassment PG-rated, but at the same time do justice to Mila’s sense of violation.  I had to make it clear that this was a particular kind of aggressive behavior that homed in on her growing sense of selfhood.  And because Mila was a seventh grader struggling with the self-consciousness and confusion of puberty,  it affected her in a way she couldn’t articulate–not to friends, teachers, or even her mom.

Also, it affected others.  One thing I learned from interviewing a middle school guidance counselor for this book was that when sexual harassment happens in middle school, it violates not  just the student being targeted, but the whole school community.  In MAYBE, some of Mila’s harassment occurs in isolation, under the radar of both adults and other kids. But enough of the behavior is witnessed– confusing, embarrassing and threatening not just Mila, but also her friends and classmates.

If I were writing a YA, the harassment might reach a crescendo, some act that was clearly criminal. (I’m thinking about Deb Caletti’s beautiful, brilliant A HEART IN A BODY IN THE WORLD.) But the whole point of MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU is that this behavior does, in fact, occur in the safe, wholesome world of MG–and so for the purposes of this story, it needed to be resolved in a MG-appropriate way.  Without spoiling too much of the ending,  I’ll just say that Mila makes mistakes, but learns to stand up for herself, partly by studying karate. She discovers several surprising allies, both adults and kids. There’s a scene of restorative justice in which the boys come to understand Mila’s perspective.  And the teachers take responsibility, initiating a schoolwide program about Consent, Boundaries and Sexual Harassment.

I never want to write one-note books, so like my other middle grade novels, MAYBE is also about family, and the constantly-shifting dynamics of middle school friendship. I hope it’s entertaining, even funny at times. I’ll confess that Mila’s bratty little sister made me laugh.

But the subject– sexual harassment in middle school–is one we need to take seriously. I’m hoping MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU starts that conversation.  

Meet Barbara Dee

Barbara Dee is the author of several middle grade novels including Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have received several starred reviews and been included on many best-of lists, including the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, and the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Star-Crossed was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound dog named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

https://BarbaraDeeBooks.com
@BarbaraDee2
IG: barbaradeebooks

About MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU

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 YouHalfway Normal, and Star-Crossed comes this timely story of a middle school girl standing up and finding her voice.

ISBN-13: 9781534432376
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/01/2019

Sexual Harassment in KidLit

As a librarian, I don’t often feel genuinely a part of kid or yalit. I’m not an author. I’m not a publisher. I’m not an agent or an editor.

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool

But I am someone who regularly talks about books and puts them into the hands of kids and teens. So these last few days, I have really sat with and thought about what is happening with the MeToo movement in kidslit. And more importantly, what is my response as a human being and as a librarian.

If you need some background, Anne Ursu wrote a post on Medium sharing the results of a survey she did regarding sexual harassment in kidlit publishing. (Sexual Harassment in the Childrens Book Industry Anne Ursu)

In addition, School Library Journal, with whom this blog is networked, shared a piece about sexual harassment in kidlist as well. Then sometime yesterday the comments exploded and people began naming names of their harassers and there were a variety of discussions had regarding sexual harassment. (http://www.slj.com/2018/01/industry-news/childrens-publishing-reckons-sexual-harassment-ranks/#_)

We as a nation and, really, as a culture, are wrestling with sexual harassment. It’s a discussion we should have been having all along, and it’s an uncomfortable one. The most necessary and most difficult conversations often are. But just because it’s messy and uncomfortable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be having it.

Previous Posts:

MeToo: Teens, Libraries and Sexual Harassment

Things They Don’t Teach You in Library School: Sexual Harassment in Libraries

As a general rule of thumb, this is where I stand on the issues.

1. Believe the victims

As a survivor myself, I can assure that there is nothing to be gained by coming out as a victim. Even in the midst of the MeToo movement, victims are still shamed, ridiculed, questioned and reviled.

2. Practice the fine art of listening

This past week I have spent a lot of time reading and listening. Yes, even as a survivor myself, it’s still important to listen. Not everyone reacts the same way, not everyone feels the same way, not everyone thinks the same way.

3. Keep in mind that anyone can be a harasser and anyone can be a victim

Although it is true that women are victims far more often then men, and men are abusers far more often than woman, it is also true that anyone can be a victim/survivor and anyone can be a perpetrator. Sexual harassment happens regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and religion. It happens regardless of where a person is, what they are wearing, or how much they have had to drink.

4. The abuser is always responsible for their behavior

When talking about sexual harassment and violence, it’s important to remember that ultimately, the abuser is always responsible for their actions, their choices. At some point, the abuser must make the decision to engage in the behavior. They and they alone are responsible for their choices.

5. Survivors don’t owe you their stories

If, how and when people choose to share their stories of harassment and abuse are totally up to the victims/survivors. We do not get to demand of them their stories. They have already been violated once, we do not need to violate them again by denying their personal autonomy and demanding that they answer our questions, share the details, etc. Even if their abuser goes on to abuse 100s of other people, they don’t owe anyone their stories and they are not responsible for any subsequent abuse. They get to process their trauma on their own terms and in their own time.

I also have seen some discussion about what this means for us as librarians who work with kids. And I think that it is a good question, one with which we will wrestle with for quite some time. I know that what I may choose to do personally or as a blogger is different than what I will chose to do as a professional librarian. I purchase and put in my collection every day books that I don’t agree with by people I don’t like because I am a public employee and as such I am not building a personal library, but a community one. To hold the title of public librarian comes with a lot of responsibility to a community that is larger than just me. I am bound by community standards, board adopted collection development policies, and the teens in which I have chosen to serve. So while someone may be named as a serial predator and I will personally chose to believe the victims, I will probably not be able to stop buying their titles for my library. It also means that if I have reason to suspect that my teens will not be safe in the presence of said author, I will chose to invite someone else to an event as a speaker.

As a librarian and a reader, I believe in the power of words. I believe that what we say and what we do matters and helps shape the world that we live in. I believe that every person deserves to walk through this world with a reasonable expectation of respect and safety. I am keeping all of this in mind as I listen to the conversations we are having and trying to figure out when, what and how to say something.

I also want to remind us all that teens today have access to these conversations that we are having. They are connected in ways that previous generations never were. They are connected with authors, with the larger kid/yalit community, and with the news. They see and hear us talking about consent, sexual violence, and sexual harassment. They are listening. They are learning. Now, more than ever, what we say and how we say it matters. We are not just reckoning with our past, but we are helping to shape the future in terms of these issues. What is happening matters.

#MeToo: Teens, Libraries and Sexual Harassment

svyalitOver recent weeks, a wide variety of discussion has been happening about sexual violence, harassment, and assault. These are important conversations that have wide reaching implications. Make no mistake, these things are also happening in the lives of our teens. With the discussion there has been a lot of sharing online with the hashtag #MeToo. This hashtag was begun years ago and became very active again in the past couple of weeks.

#MeToo: An activist, a little girl and the heartbreaking origin of ‘Me too’

#MeToo: Women are sharing their stories of sexual harassment

Many librarians are bringing this topic into their libraries by sharing book displays of titles that deal with the topic of sexual violence with a simple sign that says “#MeToo”. I think this is a relevant and important display for our teens. This IS a topic that they deal with, it is also a conversation that is happening right now. Our teens are online, plugged in and connected; they are very aware of the conversations and engaging in their own ways. We need to be relevant to our teens, which means we need to make sure that we are responding and putting up these types of displays. Some librarians have responded that they would not be allowed to put up a display of this nature because it is too political, but this is not about politics – this is about teens and their lives, the lives they live and the topics that they talk about. By the time they reach the age of 18, 1 in 4 or 5 will be the victims of sexual violence. And almost no female will graduate high school without experiencing some form of sexual harassment. My teenage daughter has already dealt with this on multiple occasions and it is a topic that we talk about often as I try and help her navigate how to stand up for herself and demand safety and respect. By the time they graduate high school almost all of our teen girls will be able to share their own #MeToo stories, and this is unacceptable.

svyalitbrochurepage1real talk sexual violence brochure page 2

If you are considering putting up your own #MeToo display, here are some book lists to that you can draw from.

#SVYALit: The Sexual Violence in YA Lit Project and Discussion – includes book reviews and book lists

13 YA Books About Sexual Assault And Rape Culture

#SJYALit: Ten Young Adult Novels for Sexual Assault Awareness

YA Books About Rape Culture, Fight Against Sexual Assualt

When Talking About Sexual Consent, YA Books Can Be A Parent’s Best Resource

9 Books That Are a Call to Action Against Rape Culture

#MeToo Book List by Barnes and Noble