With “Maybe He Just Likes You,” author Barbara Dee creates a plot and a main character that will cause readers to get angry. We get angry at both the situation and the main character, even though we can sympathize with her.
Mila is a seventh-grader being harassed at school. It seems to start innocently with a group hug, but then a group of boys, basketball players, all touch her, bump into her, smirk at her, and when she tells them to stop they act like they don’t know what she is talking about.
To make matters more difficult, her mother lost her job and they are worrying about finances. Mila doesn’t confide in her mother because she doesn’t want to add to her mother’s worries. But she’s hurting and her friends are acting strange about it. One friend, Zara, only seems concerned about herself and almost acts jealous that Mila is getting attention from a boy she has a crush on. Another friend is too shy to do much but encourage Mila quietly. And her friend Max is frustrated that she won’t report the bullying because the year before she had forced him to report that he was being bullied.
The story is carefully told with a believable group of characters and realistic dialogue. The first person narrative helps us understand what Mila is thinking, and although readers will be frustrated that she doesn’t do the obvious thing and tell someone, we understand her logic and her hesitation. And to be fair, when she does approach a guidance counselor, he is ineffective.
I love the moment when she finally decides that she’s not going to take it anymore. It’s a bit (just a little bit) like the point in the movie “Network” but it’s Mila who is mad as hell because just before a band concert, one of the boys tells her that her shirt is see-through. Her reaction is priceless, but so is the reaction of some other students who know what she’s been going through and support her.
What is important about this book is that in this #MeToo era, we know this is going on in schools and workplaces all over the country. Maybe if enough students read this story, if enough teachers and guidance counselors read this book, if enough parents read this book, they will all look at students and situations a bit more carefully. Ask questions that might be a bit more pertinent. Make sure that all students receive education about what “no” means and what personal space means. And make sure that both boys and girls realize that this kind of behavior is not teasing or funny. It’s harmful and hurtful.
And also importantly, Dee makes the point that when Mila sees one of her attackers in the park, he doesn’t seem like a monster. He’s just a kid with a family and a sibling he treats lovingly. And in the end, we find out that he isn’t a monster; none of them are. They just didn’t get it. And the one student who did get it was afraid that if he refused to join in with the harassment, he’d be kicked out of their group. How many teachers have seen this kind of behavior? Too many of us, I’m sure.
That’s why this book is an important one. Not only does it address an important topic, but it’s extremely well written and compelling. Parents, educators, librarians, please read this book and share it with the middle grade readers in your life. Today.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for review purposes.