Mila used to love wearing her green fuzzy sweater. That is, until a group of boys at school started calling it lucky. It began at recess one day, when the boys joined into a group hug between her friends uninvited. Since then, they’ve narrowed their focus in on her. One day, a boy brushes her shoulder and she’s pretty sure it was intentional. Another, someone wants to touch her fuzzy sweater for luck in the basketball game. One day, a boy asks her for a hug since he missed out on the playground – then takes it unasked. Then Callum is scooching his seat closer and closer to her during band class. It is freaking Mila out and hurting her, but others are giving her the impression that she needs to lighten up. She doesn’t know how to explain her feelings to the male guidance counselor. One of her besties even seems jealous of the attention Mila is getting. But this doesn’t feel like flirting. It feels invasive and Mila feels powerless to make it stop. Then she gets confirmation from a classmate – that the boys are playing a game. They get points for anytime they make physical contact with her. One point for a bump, three points for a grab – and Mila is furious.
One day, she is pushed too far, and taking on the boys herself lands her in trouble. Luckily, she begins to find help in allies she didn’t realize she had. Plus, she finds karate, the perfect place to learn about self-respect and bodily autonomy. Will it all make an impact on the boys who’ve been harassing her and the people who don’t understand shy she is so angry?
Hi, my name is Liz, and I’m obsessed with this book. We’ve seen a lot of YA leading up to (and in the wake of) the #MeToo movement dealing with sexual assault, but not as many that have attacked harassment, especially the kind that flies under the radar or isn’t seen by all as inappropriate. Barbara Dee makes “harmless” boys-will-be-boys “teasing” the focus of Mila’s unwanted attention, and packages it in the perfect story for a middle school audience. Any person who has been the subject of such behavior will feel as righteously angry as Mila does as they read the book, but it also provides a “safe” story to introduce concepts of consent and respect without a harrowing, dark story. Deliciously, however, Dee writes the boys very well, and it’s easy to see who would grow up to be a future Brock Turner and who would grow up to cover for him. Mila’s band mate Callum wears his privilege and invades her space not only physically, but emotionally, turning tables on her and manipulating situations with the confidence certain boys are taught. But we also meet a more sensitive type, who we can tell understands how this game he’s been roped into is wrong, but won’t buck the pressure from his friends. It’s very thoughtfully and realistically portrayed.
Because we have such young characters, the boys get a chance at redemption and learning, and I think in this story it is warranted – and we want to see it! We want to see our boys learn the right ways to behave, and the adults who end up intervening take their discipline in a very thoughtful and productive way.
I would love to see this book go viral in all schools. I think fifth grade would be a great time for it, but even older middle schoolers would likely enjoy and benefit from its story and message. I read it straight through in a couple of hours – get it in kids’ hands!