Barbara Dee is the author of several middle grade novels including Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have received several starred reviews and been included on many best-of lists, including the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, and the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Star-Crossed was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound dog named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.
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© Carolyn Simpson
Introduce Barbara Dee to your readers with this special Q&A that focuses on Maybe He Just Likes You.
Maybe He Just Likes You discusses sexual harassment within the context of a middle school community, capturing the progression and complex reactions involving victims, harassers, observers, friends, and teachers. Why did you feel it important to show all perspectives? What kind of knowledge do you hope kids take away from reading about Mila’s experiences?
When sexual harassment happens—even the relatively mild kind in this story—it affects the whole school community, not just the target of the harassment. Friendships get tested, as some kids may be uncomfortable acknowledging that this behavior exists, while others may feel helpless to address it. Some of the harassers may be uncomfortable, too, going along with what can seem like an (almost) innocent game. And because so much of this behavior happens under the radar of teachers and school administrators, the adults in the room are often caught up short. It’s important to me that every character in this story has a point of view, and that no one is treated like a villain.
I’m hoping kids who read Maybe He Just Likes You will come away from this book understanding a little more about consent, respect and boundaries. I hope they’ll empathize with a character who is being targeted, and see why the harassment hurts. I’m also hoping kids will learn, as Mila does, how to advocate (both for themselves and others) in an effective way.
Mila doesn’t always get the support she feels she needs from Zara, yet the girls never really stop being friends. How would you describe Zara and Mila’s friendship? What kind of advice would you have for them?
Mila’s relationship with Zara is complicated—like so many middle school friendships! Even at the start Mila recognizes that Zara is a “fun, caring friend, but capable of meanness.” As the harassment develops, she sees that Zara is not an ally. But she doesn’t want to make Zara an enemy, so she learns to keep her at a distance—a useful thing to know how to do. I’d advise Mila to trust her gut about Zara. And I’d encourage Zara to work on developing some empathy.
There’s such a strong sense of family when it comes to Mila, her sister, Hadley, and their mother, often making Mila and her mother feel more like a two-person team than mother-daughter. What does this dynamic add to the story?
Mila’s mom is a single, hard-working woman just barely providing for her family. Mila wants to shield her from extra stress, so she doesn’t share her problems at school. Mom, meanwhile, is dealing with adult problems she’s trying to keep from Mila. So the two are deeply bonded, but at the same time not communicating. Their relationship adds a layer of tension to the story, while it underlines the importance of constant, open dialogue between parents and children, especially with sensitive subjects like harassment.
Mila finds release in karate, discovering a new side of herself. Did you ever take karate lessons, or discover an unexpected talent?
I’ve never taken karate or self-defense classes, but both my sons studied when they were younger, and now my daughter (a senior in college) is a green belt! So I’ve attended many, many classes vicariously. A few years ago I took up swimming; I wouldn’t call it a talent, but it was cool to discover my body could be strong!
Spotlight on Maybe He Just Likes You
Barbara Dee explores the subject of #MeToo for the middle grade audience in this heart-wrenching—and ultimately uplifting—novel about experiencing harassment and unwanted attention from classmates.
For seventh-grader Mila, it starts with some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few days later, at recess, one of the boys (and fellow trumpet player) Callum tells Mila it’s his birthday, and asks her for a “birthday hug.” He’s just being friendly, isn’t he? And how can she say no? But Callum’s hug lasts a few seconds too long, and feels…weird. According to her friend, Zara, Mila is being immature and overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?
Interviews and more with Barbara Dee!
Barbara Dee in the Hotseat
Barbara Dee on the
Books Between Podcast
Barbara Dee on TeachingBooks.net
FAQ’s with Barbara
Advice for Aspiring Novelists
Engage your readers with these reading group guides!