Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019
In Maybe He Just Likes You Barbara Dee captures the feel of middle school perfectly. They’re on the line, Mira and her friends, sometimes leaning over into childhood and other times into adolescence. Mila’s body has moved into adolescence of its own accord, and even her green sweater doesn’t do enough to hide the changes she’s not ready for. Her friends, too, are dealing with the changes—or lack thereof–and it’s causing strain in the group. So, when a group of boys begins to give Mila a lot of unwanted attention, she doesn’t know what to make of it or where to turn.
It’s so easy to sympathize with Mira in this story. When everything is new: the shape of your body, the crushes your friends get, the social scene in middle school, it can be hard to determine what’s okay and what’s not. But Mira quickly comes to the conclusion that what’s happening is not okay. Yet, faced with an overwhelmed single mom, distracted teachers and male counselors, she cannot bear to explain. Finally, one night, Mira has the opportunity to retaliate against the leader of the group of boys, and that leads the way to help, learning, and restorative justice.
This book makes an excellent resource for middle school girls and dare I say male middle school teachers and administrators since the painful situations Mira is in are presented in such an unflinching and clear manner. In addition, Barbara Dee presents a realistic situation where the adults are clearly trying to do well by the students and yet Mira has good reasons to fear approaching them. I would hope that the resolution of the story would give any girl faced with this problem the courage to seek help.
I did have one big beef with the book, and it comes at the end, so if you don’t want spoilers, stop reading now. At the same time that Mira is dealing with sexual harassment at school, there are hints that her mother is encountering the same at work. In addition, the small family has some serious financial problems caused by the fact that Mira’s father refuses to pay child support. In the end Mom’s male boss fires her. Although Mira saves the day by pushing her mother in the direction of a new job with a female boss, the conclusion of the sub plot made me want to spit. Mira’s mom gets a new job she loves in a woman-owned business…at an even lower wage.
Suffice it to say my reader’s high in Mira’s success was spoiled by the message that in adult life women are at the mercy of men—whether ex-husbands or bosses—and that in order to be happy they must also be poorly compensated.
My conclusion? This book has a great message as it relates to middle school, and that’s probably reason enough to buy it, because that part of the plot’s masterful. But if my daughter were in middle school, I’d hand it to her with the requirement that we talk through what happened with Mira’s mom after she was finished reading. Unfortunately, I’m guessing most middle school girls won’t share this book with their mom.
I received an advance reader copy of Maybe He Just Likes You from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.