Maybe He Just Likes You, by Barbara Dee, is an important middle grade book that all students should read. It tells the story of Mila, a girl who deals with harassment by a group of boys in her grade. The harassment starts off as hugs that feel uncomfortable and continues into harassing comments and groping. When Mila tries to reach out for help, but is ignored, she navigates the situation on her own and learns to stand up for herself.
I love this book because it reminds me of the students I teach, offering a realistic depiction that is often lacking for grade seven students. These tweens are at the crossroads between childhood and adolescence, playing silly games in the schoolyard one minute, while dealing with tough issues the next. The book offers a good reminder that sexual harassment starts this young (or younger) and that the groundwork for future gender dynamics is laid at this age.
A strength of this book is that it will teach different lessons to different kinds of kids. Students who are at risk of harassment will learn about being assertive. Often victims of harassment are told they are being too sensitive or were "flirting" and as a result deserve the treatment. The author brings up these messages and throughly dismisses them, making it clear that nothing justifies harassment. By seeing Mila overcome her harassers, students will hopefully feel empowered to stand up for themselves and others.
The book also teaches kids about respectful boundaries, particularly important for those students who might transgress these boundaries now or in the future. It defines harassment, zeroes in on the boys' behaviour, and makes it clear why it is unacceptable. The harassment and entitled behaviour is a precursor to toxic masculinity and I like how the author challenges it. Such lessons, along with understanding Mila's point of view to begin with, are vital for preventing similar real life behaviour.
Finally, I think this book is especially important for teachers to read. Mila tries to report the harassment early on, but crucially does not find anyone who will listen. She ends up going it alone, causing the problem to get worse. It is too easy for teachers to dismiss student complaints without really considering what is happening. This book cautions us to stop and truly listen to our students.