He Must Like You by Danielle Younge-Ullman
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TW: Sexual Assault
Overview: His hand was on her butt and then the sangria was in his lap. Libby isn't quite sure how she ended up pouring a pitcher of cold beverage over the town's most popular man, but she doesn't regret it. Well, sort of, because it cost her her job. But she's not sorry, because that wasn't the first, second, or third time Perry has sexually harassed her. Somehow, Perry isn't even her biggest problem. With lingering memories that still bother her, a suddenly empty college fund, and a father who is a menace to the town, Libby has a lot to deal with as she tries to make it through senior year. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 I love Libby. I love her voice, her sarcasm, her not totally jaded cynicism. I guess I found a lot of myself in her. Libby has a lot of self doubt and worry that makes her very self conscious. Her dad's erratic behavior has trained her brain to try to anticipate every angle of an interaction and taught her to react to placate instead of saying what she really feels. Libby is bold yet accommodating and quiet. She's also very independent and is able to rise to the very adult challenges that are thrown at her. Libby is so sincere that there's no way to not connect with her in some way.
The other major players come from her friend group, her family, and her coworkers at the restaurant. Libby has a less than optimal support system for everything she's faced with. Emma, her best friend, and a few other friends are in her corner, but they really don't have the skills to fully support her through the hardest struggles. There's Noah, the possible love interest, who is truly the sweetest but is also a teenager and as lost and inexperienced as everyone else. They try to help each other through the confusion, or at the very least, offer a safe shoulder to cry on.
Her family is more of a problem than a safety net. The book starts with Libby finding out her dad is kicking her out of the house at the start of the summer and drained her whole college fun overnight. This is just a small taste of the dangerous, scattered behavior he demonstrates through the book. He casts a dark shadow over the family. Her mom is reduced to a quiet woman dedicated to soothing and placating the dangerous, wrong, and frustrating men around her. She doesn't even question it anymore. Libby is convinced her dad needs therapy or medication, but her voice can't make it over his noise bubble as he drags the family down with him. I thought this part of the book was so important because it's rare that we see a parent who's struggling with undiagnosed mental illness in YA. It's not an uncommon experience for teens, though. I loved how Younge-Ullman put on full display how uncentering and difficult it is to deal with a parent who breeds instability and feeling powerless to circumvent that. When the ground is so shaky at home, it's hard to launch into anything more stable. The arch of working to get her dad help was so important.
For as few helpful adults as Libby has in her life, she does honestly seek out those with the resources to help her. That's also really rare in YA. You can have a really compelling story if the teen doesn't solve everything alone or with other teens. With the biggest issues, like dealing with PTSD from past sexual assault and dealing with an ongoing sexual harassment issue, Libby finds ways to connect with a councilor and a lawyer to help her through it. These aren't immediate connections, but her process to come around to them is so important to show. Beyond that, they're actually helpful.
Plot: 5 While there are a lot of pieces of the plot, most of the themes tie back to sexual assault and harassment and how prevalent it is. Almost every woman has an experience with one or the other or both. It's so accepted in society and so easily brushed under the rug. After seeing a school presentation about sexual assault and the true meaning of consent, Libby starts to realize some of her past sexual experiences that didn't sit right really weren't okay.
The first two encounters feel blurry to Libby as she either didn't enthusiastic consent or said no but didn't fight back. It wasn't violent and it was more freeze than fight, so Libby invalidates it in her head until she's forced to address it. Just because it wasn't gory doesn't mean it didn't inflict deep and lasting trauma. One particularly poignant part of the book are the two times she discusses what happened with the boys who raped her because they're both still in her life. They have two very different reactions, but there's a very clear through line. We do not talk enough as a society about what sexual assault really is and the importance of taking no very seriously, not coercing agreement, and the importance of enthusiastic consent. There's such a cultural idea around the idea of needing to convince or talk a partner into it, and that's not charming, sexy, or okay. By not talking about these issues, people don't understand the full extent of the damage they can do by thinking their actions are fine. This shouldn't be a taboo topic. Education is the only way to end a lot of situations similar to what Libby experienced.
The third incident is the groping and sexual comments Perry makes as she tries to serve him at the restaurant. Libby loses her job because of Perry's place of power in town. No one thinks what he did was right, but no one feels like they can stand up to him. He knows he has all the power, and he's happy to abuse it. This is the view of sexual assault that has been talked about in the public consciousness more often now. We have a president who has the soundbites from his own mouth bragging about assaulting a woman. Powerful men get away with horrible things on a daily basis, and we all just shake our heads sadly. Even Libby, despite her heroic first impulse, realizes that he's an almost impossible foe, especially to take on alone. The power imbalance is flattening. Also, the idea of powerful men soliciting inappropriate favors for advancement or the trope of the creepy old dude feel common place in society. That's the root of the problem. It's been normalized past the point of being as blatantly vominously disgusting as it is.
All of these incidences go back to the title. We tell girls "Oh, he must like you" from the time they're in kindergarten. Society apologizes and dismisses boy's harmful actions against girls from day one, so why do we wonder about how this problem exists. We tell boys they can do whatever they want and girls that whatever boys doing is probably their own fault. It moves from adults repeating it to police's generally abysmal handling of sexual assault cases.
If you work with or around kids, please consider the cycle you're contributing to before you tell another bullied, sad little girl that he just must like her.
Writing: 5 The writing in this book is so easy and conversational. I know that everything I've kind of soapboxed about in the middle of this review makes it sound super heavy, but the book does not feel that way at all. It definitely has the potential to be triggering, but it's such an honest, realistic portrayal that if you think it won't be harmful, I recommend picking it up. I read it quickly and the pacing kept it engaging and quick to get through- even the most painful parts. There's a surprising amount of lightness and action through the book.
Younge-Ullman also does an incredible job of creating a very full world. There's friends, family, a crush, a variety of struggles and obstacles, a work life, and a set of school concerns. She touches on every consideration of teen life while also honing perfect commentaries on the major plot points. I found this book to be touching, personally important, and also just a masterclass in this brand of contemporary YA.
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