Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You is one of the best, most important YA novels to be published in a long time.
This novel focuses on seventh grader Mila, who suddenly find herself the center of attention among the boys in her grade. They bump into her without apologizing, make rude comments, crowd her space, and touch her without consent.
This novel is so true to life that your middle schoolers will certainly relate to it. The relationships and friend drama are authentic. The emotions that characters face seem overwhelming. There are no simple answers, and the book presents these issues in a sensitive and smart way.
In an interview, author Barbara Dee said, “I spent a lot of time following the #MeToo stories that were everywhere in the news. I began wondering: Where does this behavior come from? When does it start? I did some research: the answer I kept finding was “seventh grade” –but I didn’t see any middle grade fiction on this topic. So I began writing…”
So much of the news and current events in the last several years have focused on women telling stories of sexual harassment. Perhaps you have seen and even shown your students Oprah’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. de Mille Award. Your students are probably familiar with some of these events in the news: Bill Cosby’s trial, the “Time’s Up” campaign, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, and more. These events may be upsetting and confusing for our students. Discussing it though the lens of literature is a great way to kids make sense of them.
While reading, I was transported back to middle school, and that incredibly uncomfortable time when your body is changing, your clothes aren’t fitting the same, and it feels like everyone is focused on you.
Being a middle school teacher, I could also relate to the struggles of my students.
Seventh graders should read this book. All middle schoolers should be required to read it. Boys and girls would benefit from this powerful story. It would serve as an excellent discussion starter, and hopefully it will educate young people about how to navigate these challenging issues.
In another interview, Dee says, “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.”
Barbara Dee definitely succeeds in striking the right balance between being appropriate and authentic. Not only is it relevant and timely, it’s well written. You will want to keep turning the pages to see what happens.
Maybe He Just Likes You fits perfectly into my goal of making reading relevant for your students. The characters are culturally diverse, and there are LGBTQ characters and issues discussed as well, although briefly.
I highly recommend giving this book a read, and hopefully introducing it to your students as well.
Teaching this novel in your class? Check out this complete novel unit for supporting resources!