Barbara Dee, a well-accomplished middle grade author, has one mission: to provide a voice for middle schoolers.
Dee’s 2019 novel, Maybe He Just Likes You, along with her 11 other novels (listed below) shines a big ol’ light on the way young people process the world around them and navigate through deep topics such as sexual harassment or stepping into their individual sexual orientation.
Dee’s goal is to provide a window for young people to see they are not alone in the world and what they feel is real and it matters.
The themes in Dee’s books give her young readers the opportunity to create a space for conversation about the hard topics whether they have personal experience with them or not. Her books are so beautiful in that they reassure her readers that what they feel about certain topics is not different or odd or strange and that there are other people in the world that have felt the same way. As if to say, “You are not alone.”
The Motive Behind Writing Maybe He Just Likes You
Maybe He Just Likes You, Dee’s 11th book, focuses on sexual harassment and how easy sexual harassment and its detrimental impact on the victim and her/his inner circle can go unnoticed in a middle school setting.
In Dee’s research for her book, she found that the behavior surrounding sexual harassment doesn’t only start in high school, it starts as early as middle school.
The school psychologist she interviewed stated that this kind of behavior is never seen in the hallways of her school and is mostly brought up only when a friend(s) of a victim steps forward and says something.
Dee knew this topic had to be written into a book once she learned more about how sexual harassment impacts an individual and their relationships with their closest friends and community.
Here is Barbara Dee’s full interview with the Fairfax Network where she discusses the motive for her book, Maybe He Just Likes You.
Summary of Maybe He Just Likes You
Seventh grader Mila, is bothered by a couple of boys at her school. What started as a squeeze of her shoulder from a boy during a rather awkward group hug out on the school yard turns into something that leaves Mila feeling vulnerable and voiceless. Callum, along with his friends Dante, Tobias, and Leo (a.k.a. The basketball boys) get a good laugh out of the ordeal.
The next day, Mila is approached by Tobias who asks Mila for a hug. She is wearing the same fuzzy green sweater she wore the previous day, the same sweater the basketball boys have deemed good luck and Tobias wants some. She denies Tobias yet, not wanting to upset anyone, allows him to rub her sleeve. Tobias grabs her and pulls her in for a very unwanted embrace.
Mila begins to feel insecure about her actions, questioning her feelings (moths in her stomach, ugly and uncomfortable), and changing her clothing. It doesn’t help that her mother is clearly struggling to make ends meet, working with a bullish boss that leaves Mira in charge of taking care of her 6 year old sister after school.
Incidents keep occurring between Mira and members of the basketball boys. But when she tries to tell her so-called best friend, Zara (who has a crush on Leo), she tells her that she is acting like a baby and the boys are just flirting and playing around.
No matter what Mila tries to do to alleviate the situation, things get worse for her. Her guidance counselor is out on maternity leave and Mila is sent to talk to the other guidance counselor who just so happens to be a man and the boys basketball coach. She is afraid to talk to her mother about what’s happening at school because she doesn’t want to add stress onto her already worrying mother. Her circle of friendship feels like it is waning as her friends don’t know what to do about the situation.
Why Maybe He Just Likes You is Important for Middle Schoolers
Maybe He Just Likes You is a well-written book that captures, very poignantly, the confusion and utter devastation that occurs within the mind of a young girl/boy who is victim to sexual harassment. Dee does a beautiful job showing how these incidents affected ALL aspects of Mila’s life and drawing a clear distinction of life before and after becoming a victim of harassment.
Barbara Dee Explores the Topic of the #MeToo Movement
Another thing Dee captures so well is all the ways harassment not only begins, but how challenging it is to “see.” There were multiple points in this story where Mila’s situation could have been dealt with in a serious and effective manner were it not for Mila’s self-doubt about the boys’ motives, her inability to stand up for herself, or the doubt her friends felt about the situation. “Maybe he just likes you,” “Maybe if you think about what you are doing…” “It’s called flirting.”
But that’s the painful reality of the situation, isn’t it? It makes me wonder how many middle school girls are victims of the same type of incidents Mila experiences in Maybe He Just Likes You.
The way Dee portrays the growth of Mila’s voice throughout this novel is no less than perfect and provides the best resolution to Mila’s journey toward becoming fully heard by her peers and community.
Barbara Dee’s Books Should Be Required Reading
Period. Barbara Dee’s books, especially Maybe He Just Likes You, should be required reading for all middle school students. This book gets kids thinking about their own actions toward their peers and empowers them to speak up when they see or experience bullying or sexual harassment within their school community.
Not only does the message of Dee’s book benefit middle schoolers, it benefits parents and adults who work with children. It lends itself to becoming more aware of the signs a young person may show if they have fallen victim to this type of behavior from their peers or adults in their life.
Other Books by Barbara Dee
We can’t leave here without sharing all of Barbara Dee’s other brilliant, impactful books for middle schoolers.
Released October 2021
Twelve-year-old Wren loves makeup—special effect makeup, to be exact. When she is experimenting with new looks, Wren can create a different version of herself. A girl who isn’t in a sort-of-best friendship with someone who seems like she hates her. A girl whose parents aren’t divorced and doesn’t have to learn to like her new stepmom.
So, when Wren and her mom move to a new town for a fresh start, she is cautiously optimistic. And things seem to fall into place when Wren meets potential friends and gets selected as the makeup artist for her school’s upcoming production of Wicked.
Only, Wren’s mom isn’t doing so well. She’s taking a lot of naps, starts snapping at Wren for no reason, and always seems to be sick. And what’s worse, Wren keeps getting hints that things aren’t going well at her new job at the hospital, where her mom is a nurse. And after an opening night disaster leads to a heartbreaking discovery, Wren realizes that her mother has a serious problem—a problem that can’t be wiped away or covered up.
After all the progress she’s made, can Wren start over again with her devastating new normal? And will she ever be able to heal the broken trust with her mom?
When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it with her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.
It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.
The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?
Twelve-year-old Mattie is thrilled when she learns the eighth grade play will be Romeo and Juliet. In particular, she can’t wait to share the stage with Gemma Braithwaite, who has been cast as Juliet. Gemma is brilliant, pretty—and British!—and Mattie starts to see her as more than just a friend. But Mattie has also had an on/off crush on her classmate Elijah since, well, forever. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls?
If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things offstage are beginning to resemble their own Shakespearean drama: the cast is fighting, and the boy playing Romeo may not be up to the challenge of the role. And due to a last-minute emergency, Mattie is asked to step up and take over the leading role—opposite Gemma’s Juliet—just as Mattie’s secret crush starts to become not-so-secret in her group of friends.
In this funny, sweet, and clever look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to become a lead player in her own life.neaks out to join him.