Published by Aladdin on October 1, 2019
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary
My content rating: MG (Depiction of sexual harassment via slightly sexualized comments and touching)
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?
But the boys don’t leave Mila alone. On the bus. In the halls. During band practice—the one place Mila could always escape.
It doesn’t feel like flirting—so what is it? Thanks to a chance meeting, Mila begins to find solace in a new place: karate class. Slowly, with the help of a fellow classmate, Mila learns how to stand her ground and how to respect others—and herself.
From the author of Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed comes this timely story of a middle school girl standing up and finding her voice.”
I decided to start reading this book before bed a few nights ago, and the next thing I knew it was midnight and I was finished. And I had shed tears. I was not expecting to have this reaction to this book. In fact, honestly, at the very beginning of the book I was feeling a tad bit skeptical. I was thinking, “Wait, is this going to be a book about a boy who squeezed a girl’s shoulder without asking?” But that’s sort of the beauty of the book. It starts off almost completely innocently—with Mila feeling a little bit uncomfortable in a relatively benign situation. The sort of situation that you could reasonably see people brushing off, including Mila herself. But then things start to spiral. The little shoulder squeeze turns into an unwanted hug, which turns into brushing up against her, and then the boys start making comments, and soon Mila realizes that many of the boys are in on some kind of game they think is funny—it’s not funny to her.
Dee does a fantastic job of showing a situation where things get out of hand without ever truly crossing into outright sexual territory (which is realistic in a middle school setting). She shows Mila’s confusion over the situation, wondering if she could be making something out of nothing, her fears about talking to someone about it, and the backlash she gets when she does speak out. All of this rang true, and it’s important for a MG audience to see. Even the fact that the boys didn’t seem to think they’d done anything truly wrong until they got in trouble feels realistic. I highly recommend this exploration of consent to MG readers and adults alike! This book will stimulate the types of conversations we need to be having.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
My Favorite Key
by Barbara Dee
Every writer is a self-editor. To do this work you have to be okay with endless rounds of tweaking, rewording, re-re-wording. The tricky part is when you realize that no matter how many hours you spend on that chapter, or that scene, or that paragraph, it just isn’t working, and you need to let it go.
Even if it’s hilarious, or moves you to tears. Even if it has some of your best writing.
Because for every sentence you write, you need to ask yourself some hard questions. Are the characters explaining the plot to each other, instead of interacting?
Does the passage repeat a scene you’ve already written?
Does it advance the plot?
Does it reveal something about character?
Does it surprise?
Is it necessary?
If you can’t answer these questions immediately, it’s probably because deep down you suspect that the scene needs to go. If that’s the case, don’t feel bad about hitting the Delete key–trust me, it’s the best key on the keyboard. I’ve made friends with it long ago; in fact, I never write longhand anymore, because I can’t delete on paper without making an illegible mess.
Trust your instinct about deleting. Because when the writing magic is happening, you know it. For me, there are two signs that a scene is working: when I can hear the characters’ distinct voices, and when I can visualize the space–the decor of a house, the floor plan of a building. When those two things are in my head so firmly that I’m thinking about them even when I’m not writing, I’m ready to move on to the next chapter.
Although always with the understanding that nothing I write is ever set in stone. Once I’ve finished the whole draft, it’s entirely possible I’ll want to circle back and delete that “magical” scene after all. Maybe it’s redundant, or I’ve taken a turn that makes it irrelevant. Maybe I’ve changed my mind about the plot, or the characters– sometimes you don’t realize these things until you type THE END. I’ve never loved the expression “kill your darlings,” but if there’s a better way to express that need to float above your own precious words, poised to hit the Delete key at any moment, I don’t know what it is.
Oh, one other thing: nothing deleted is wasted work. Save everything you delete–you can always recycle!
About the Author
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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