Sexual harassment is nothing new. It has been going on for years. But it isn’t being brushed aside the way it used to, instead, people are being urged to come forward with their stories. I have not been abused myself. The most I’ve had of harassment is jerks in New York touching me in the subway. But the reality is that for many people, being harassed is all too true. I don’t think I would have really thought about this in terms of literature if it wasn’t for the fact that a) I was sent an advance review copy of a new book and b) we are discussing this very topic in my resources for adolescents class.
The book that started me thinking of all of this is a new book by Barbara Dee that will be coming out in October. Maybe He Just Likes You is a #metoo book for the middle school age group. The story tells of Mila, a seventh grader, who is being harassed by a group of boys in her class. It starts with an unwanted hug and continues with uninvited touches, hugs, and comments. Mila thinks it has something to do with the fact that she needs to buy some new clothes and some of her shirts are too tight. So she hides herself with her mom’s clothing. When she tells her friends, most of them tell her that this is the way that boys flirt. The guidance counselor tells her that seventh grade boys can do stupid things and that she should just ignore them. Fortunately, Mila starts taking a karate class and learns that she has to stand up for herself, which in the end, she does. This is a really important book for middle school girls to read and understand that no one has the right to touch them, even in jest. If that is how a guy is trying to show that he likes you, he needs to be taught a lesson. (disclosure – I received a copy of this from the publisher. All opinions are my own.)
Recently, I also read the book Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. This book focuses on Annabell, a high school student who returns from summer break being ostracized by her friends for something that happened over the summer. The book focuses on the relationship that Annabell has with another student named Owen who forces her to look at her life and be truthful with herself and with others. As the book progresses, the reader realizes that she was raped on “that night” but hasn’t been honest with anyone about it. When her attacker tries it on someone else, that person steps up and tells the cops. There is a whole lot more to this story, but in terms of sexual harassment, Dessen focuses on how difficult it can be to come forth and name your attacker, but how if you don’t, your attacker could strike again.
No list of books about this subject could ignore Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This book was groundbreaking, written in 1999 and dealing with high school rape. Melinda was raped over the summer by an upperclassman and didn’t tell anyone, can’t tell anyone. But he is still at her high school and still a threat to her. Melinda’s only escape is through art which fortunately helps her heal. When her attacker strikes again, she is no longer silent. Anderson has also recently published Shout which, according to the publisher is a book in “free verse, [where] Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to action woven between deeply personal stories from her life that she’s never written about before.” This is the seminal book on the subject.
I will admit that this is thankfully not a subject that I know a huge amount about. For more books on the subject, check out these two links.
7 Books to Read During Sexual Assault Awareness Month
13 YA Books About Sexual Assault And Rape Culture That Every Teenager Needs To Read