July 10, 2020

He Must Like You

Written by Danielle Younge-Ullman
Viking (Penguin Random House)
336 pp.
Ages 14+
July 2020
Reviewed from advance readers copy

Young girls are often told, or at least they once were, that if a boy teased you or went out of his way to annoy you or get your attention that “he must like you.” And even though  they may feel unsafe or targeted, they were instructed to just bear it and were essentially chastized for making a big deal of it. Everyone should know better today. But do we?

Libby lives with her parents in the small community of Pine Ridge and in January of her senior year, her parents inform her of her new reality. Seems that because her older brother Jack dropped out of pre-med and skipped off to Greece around the time her dad was fired from his real estate brokerage firm, her parents have decided that they’ve spoiled their kids and it’s time for Libby to become independent. Not only do they want her to get a job and look for an apartment–they have plans to redo her and Jack’s rooms for Airbnb rental–but her education fund is gone. Libby is flabbergasted but she has no choice but to find a way to make some money.

She is determined to get a job as a server so she can boost her savings with tips. Because of her dad’s reputation as a jerk who provokes local businesses–they later learn he’s moved on to trolling on social media–she gets a wait job at the Goat, a restaurant just out of town. The staff is friendly and she likes the work, and Kyle, the host, helps her out by sending the big spenders her way to increase her tips.

Though Libby is not currently seeing anyone, she’s struggling with feelings about relationships and interactions she’s had and is having with certain guys in her life. She had a weird relationship with her ex-boyfriend Boris that was based more on relenting to sex than consenting to it. Then there’s Kyle who flirts like crazy with her and with whom she has sex though doesn’t feel good about doing it. There’s also her good friend Noah who is in a long-distance relationship but to whom Libby is drawn romantically.  And then there’s Perry Ackerman, the town’s saviour and big-tipping Goat customer, who regularly harasses her with sexually explicit banter and handsiness.

The turning point for Libby is a school assembly about consent given by a public health nurse.
…Dahlia Brennan basically just reached into my brain, grabbed a bunch of my memories from where they were filed (mostly under “crappy sex” or “boy acts like jerk” or “Libby is an idiot”), threw them on the floor, and told me I have to refile them under “coercion,” “sexual assault,’ and “rape.” (pg. 66)
So not only is she dealing with a lousy family situation, Libby is recognizing that, beyond the overtly offensive Perry whose behaviour should never have been tolerated by so many,  her crappy feelings related to Boris and Kyle need to be resolved if she is to have a positive relationship with Noah (fingers crossed) and keep a job she needs.

He Must Like You is a big story. (Danielle Younge-Ullman knows how to do important stories for young adults. If you haven't read her Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined, which won the Forest of Reading's White Pine Award and was nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award, put it on your to-be-read list.) He Must Like You is a story about sexual harassment, assault, consent, relationships and family. And Danielle Younge-Ullman ensures that it is all about Libby and what she is experiencing and what she needs. She gets to choose how she feels. She gets to decide what is acceptable for her in approaching the guys who have compromised her will and safety.  She gets to decide what she will and will not accept. In a time of #MeToo, Danielle Younge-Ullman educates young teens of all genders that consent is not just a yes or a no. It’s so much more. And Danielle Younge-Ullman does this with subtlety and sensitivity, common sense and even humour.

He might like her–and Noah does–but no person should feel unsafe or compromised or guilted by the another's interest or actions and He Must Like You and Danielle Younge-Ullman leave no room for misinterpretation or ambiguity about this while telling a great YA story that inspires hope for love and empowerment.

1 comment:

  1. An intriguing review! I'll look up the book at my library.