by Carmen J.
I remember this phrase being said to me after I told a friend a boy was being mean to me in middle school. Maybe He Just Likes You. Because that didn’t make sense when I was in middle school, and it wouldn’t make sense today in modern day America. It’s the title of a timely and very thought-provoking book by Barbara Dee. This book was required reading for a work training, and I can’t say I would have stumbled upon it otherwise. I’m glad for the happy accident.
The story follows Mila Brennan, a seventh grader, as she navigates unwanted attention and advances in the forms of a guilt-tripped hug of a fellow male classmate, invasions of personal space on the bus, and not-so-innocent sweater petting. When the perpetrators are her friends and include a star student athlete and first-seat orchestra player, the line between only joking and tween-age Me Too becomes increasingly blurred. It is difficult for Mila to know what is right and what is completely wrong.
Maybe He Just Likes You offers a good and well-written story with characters you’d find as next-door neighbors. The better story is how it brings to light an important conversation to have with our young people regarding consent and what constitutes wanted and unwanted physical advances, as well as how these distinctions can vary so much from person to person, male to female. For example: I have a friend who would rather swallow garbage than have anyone hug her at any time. By contrast, I can’t wait until the pandemic is over so I may start the next bear-hugging movement. (Who’s with me? It’s OK, if you’re not with me).
There is extensive gender pressure for young men to act a certain way toward the opposite sex as early as middle school, maybe late elementary school, as if school cafeterias are the new singles bars. It’s my hope that more conversations are had about de-normalizing this behavior. Pump the breaks, guys and girls. There’s plenty of time for all of this after your childhood has developed. Please. Or better yet? Let’s keep our hands to ourselves.
Carmen J. is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, shamelessly watching The Bachelor, gardening, and drinking anything that tastes like coffee.