He Must Like You
He Must Like You
Young adults need opportunities to access quality stories that broaden their worlds through insights into the contemporary human experience. It is a considerable accomplishment for an author to present a story to a teen audience that is both authentic and meaningful without its message being viewed as a lecture or instructional handbook.
He Must Like You is a contemporary romantic novel confronting the issue of sexual harassment, and author Danielle Younge-Ullman had indeed hit the perfect sweet spot. In this #MeToo age, she has penned a refreshing look at a current issue pervading society at all generations - from the trite sayings heard by youngsters up to the handling of workplace harassment. This is a must-read novel for every teenage girl – and guy for that matter – because, while it tells an engaging story, it also challenges readers to wrestle with their understanding of a definition for sexual consent in terms of their own life choices.
Libby is a senior high school student whose life is quite the shambles. Her father is a frustrating, opinionated, unemployed know-it-all who has decided to raise some cash by Airbnb-ing Libby’s room immediately after her graduation. Her working mother is tiptoeing around her dysfunctional marriage, trying her best to hold everything together. Meanwhile, Libby’s older brother Jack has used his college fund to escape to a saner existence as a bartender in Greece. Without Jack’s support on the home front, Libby struggles through the messiness of figuring out how to cope both financially and emotionally, her imminent graduation, and mounting pressures to make plans for her future.
As the cover art indicates, Libby lands a job as a server in a local pub. She proves herself a capable, hardworking employee, able to juggle numerous orders and handle any situation with aplomb. However, a big-tipping customer named Perry rattles her self-composure. His inappropriate sexually-charged comments, roaming hands, and unreasonable demands eventually cause Libby to douse Perry with a pitcher of sangria when he won’t take no as an answer.
“I’m all right, I say, though I’m clearly not. “But it wasn’t awesome, it was stupid.”
“No, it was great. Totally deserved,” Kyle says, brimming with indignation. “I know everyone in Pine Ridge loves the guy, but he’s a turd. And now thanks to you he’s a wet turd. Ha ha!”…
“Dev’s pretty upset with you, he says, turning abruptly serious.
“Yeah, soaking a customer who’s giving you trouble isn’t exactly one of the strategies suggested in the server manual.”
“I’m studying that manual right now and it doesn’t cover people like Perry. The dude needs to be outfitted with, like, a shock collar or something.”
“This is a nightmare.”
“Listen,” Kyle says, “everybody in there knows what Perry’s like. Dev included. The guy was so out of line tonight. That garbage about the desserts and his hands on you all the time, and acting like you were a dish that’s on the menu. You were provoked, Libby, and by the way I said so.”
But Libby soon discovers that confronting sexual harassment isn’t quite so straightforward. Although her co-worker Kyle is supportive, he is also the same person who did not respect her clearly-stated boundaries and pushed her into an unwanted sexual relationship in the past. Her boss recognizes that Perry was out of line but, due to economic pressures, insists that Libby apologize before she is able to serve at the pub again. Her mother’s ineffectual advice is to share the workplace strategies she’s developed over the years to sidestep male advances. Libby can’t take a chance on her dad learning of events for fear of him escalating the situation into a social media frenzy.
For advice, Libby looks to Dahlia, a health center worker who presented at a school assembly. Dahlia’s explanations about what constitutes sexual consent are especially candid, and offer a common foundation for the reader to consider.
“After some horrifying reading (dangers of internet research!) I get out of bed and search for the flyer Dahlia gave me, and wind up on the website about healthy relationships.
I’m expecting it to be cheese, condescending, and full of moralizing, but it’s actually full of entirely straightforward information. And it confirms that while what I’ve experienced is far from some of the violent, messed-up things that happen to people. Some of it has been outside the definition of “healthy.” Quite a bit outside.
Having confirmation makes me feel both worse and better – worse because I feel stupid for having let these things happen, and confused even about what part of the blame is mine and what part theirs. But at least now I know I’m not crazy to have been feeling so screwed up.”
Libby wrestles with many nuances of sexual relationships as she reflects on her own behaviour during her time with former boyfriend Boris and considers her developing romance with her longtime friend Noah – the one guy who she feels really understands her. Then there are the implications of Libby’s looming decision about whether or not to apologize to the out-of-line customer and how it will impact her future and her own developing sense of self-worth.
Younge-Ullman has created a novel that would serve as a well-recommended addition to any secondary school fiction collection. The first-person narrative is bold and honest throughout and invites frank and necessary conversations around sexual harassment, teen sexual relationships, and how prejudice against women or girls continues to pervade society through a subtle policy of inaction and long-held cultural practices. The seriousness of the topic is nicely tempered with witty dialogue and a touch of humour and romance.
Danielle Younge-Ullman is a Canadian author, screenwriter, and former actor currently living in Toronto. Her YA titles Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined (winner of the 2018 White Pine, shortlisted for Governor General’s Literary Award) and Lola Carlyle's 12 Step Romance have won or been nominated for many international and domestic book awards.
Joanie Proske is an almost retired secondary teacher-librarian in the Langley School District, Langley, British Columbia.