Barbara Dee explores the subject of #MeToo for the middle grade audience in this novel about experiencing harassment and unwanted attention from classmates.
For seventh grader Mila, it starts with an unwanted hug on the school blacktop.
The next day, it’s another hug. A smirk. Comments. It all feels…weird. According to her friend Zara, Mila is being immature, overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?
But it keeps happening, despite Mila’s protests. On the bus, in the halls. Even during band practice-the one time Mila could always escape to her “blue-sky” feeling. It seems like the boys are EVERYWHERE. And it doesn’t feel like flirting–so what is it?
Mila starts to gain confidence when she enrolls in karate class. But her friends still don’t understand why Mila is making such a big deal about the boys’ attention. When Mila is finally pushed too far, she realizes she can’t battle this on her own–and finds help in some unexpected places.
1. How did reading this book make you feel? Were you mad, sad, worried, uncomfortable, or embarrassed about the things that happened to Mila? Did you wonder what you would do if you were Mila—or if you were one of the boys?
2. What about the unfolding of events most surprised you?
3. After the first “birthday hug,” Mila replays the scene over and over, trying to decide what she should have done. “Why hadn’t I just walked out of the room? Or even thought of a lame comeback?” Do you think she should have done one of these things? Do you think there are other options she could have tried? Why do you think her initial reaction is to blame herself?
4. Mila gets lots of advice about her situation from friends and adults. Mr. Dolan and Zara tell her to just ignore the boys. Her mom advises self-control. Omi tells her never to be alone at school. Do you agree with any of this advice? What do you think you would tell Mila to do?
5. Mila says, “Zara was a fun, caring friend, but she was capable of meanness.” How can someone be both mean and caring? Do you have any friends like that? Do you think friends should ever be mean to each other? Explain your answers.
6. Why do you think Mila doesn’t tell Zara about that first “birthday hug”? In what ways can “close friends be totally different,” as Mila says? What do you think it is about Zara’s and Mila’s personalities or experiences that causes them to view things differently?
7. When Mila decides to visit the school counselor to talk about what’s going on, she ends up in Mr. Dolan’s office. What do you think about the way he handled the situation? Do you think Mila would have gotten a different reaction if she had been able to talk to a female counselor? What are some gender stereotypes that might affect someone’s interpretation of the situation?
8. After Mila kicks Callum, she and the boys end up in the assistant principal’s office. The boys tell him that she is “too sensitive” and that they were just teasing. Do you think the boys believe that it’s “just teasing,” or do they know that what they are doing is wrong? Do you think all the boys think the same thing? Explain your answers using evidence from the book.
9. Think about the different feelings Mila has about the situation: she is afraid to be alone with any of the boys; she is ashamed when Ms. Fender changes her band position; she gets mad after she finds out about the scorecard. How does being ashamed differ from feeling afraid? Do you think that when Mila gets mad, that makes her feel stronger or more upset? How might you act if you were feeling any of these emotions? Explain your answers.
10. Zara blames Mila for what’s happening. She says, “‘No one can hug you if you don’t let them.’” Even Samira tells Mila that she doesn’t “‘have to put up with stuff like that.’” Why do you think Samira and Zara view the situation that way? Do you agree with them? Is it fair for others to make these comments when they aren’t the ones experiencing the unwanted attention?
11. Describe how Zara and Mila’s relationship changes as Mila continues to receive unwanted attention from boys in her class. Why do you think that girls stop “sticking together” when it comes to issues with boys? Why is it that sometimes it’s “girls against boys” and sometimes it’s not? Have you ever argued with a friend over a romantic interest? If so, what happened?
12. When Mila gets to school early, Ms. Wardak won’t let her wait outside her homeroom, and Mila wanders around looking for a safe place. Does your school have safe places? If so, do you think all your classmates know that they are available? If not, what might you do to try to secure a safe place?
13. Another unsafe place for Mila is the bus. Have you ever felt that when adults aren’t watching, especially on the bus or in the hallways, there is room for unwanted things to happen? Who might you talk to if something does happen to you, or if you witness it happening to someone else?
14. Mila wonders, “What are the boys seeing?” She changes the way she dresses. She kicks Callum and snaps at her mom and her teachers. She thinks “it was as if lately I’d been losing track of myself.” What do you think she means by that? Why do you think her behavior has changed? Are any of these tactics effective? What might be good coping mechanisms for Mila?
15. Zara says that the boys are just flirting with Mila. Max tells her that they are bullying her and gets mad when she won’t take his advice to tell on the boys. Do you agree with Zara or Max? What do you think makes the situation so complex? Do you think there is anyone who fully understands what’s going on?
16. Mila sees a different side of Tobias when he is with his little brother and sister at the park. She thinks, “Maybe all the basketball boys have non-jerk sides . . . so why is it different when it comes to me?” Have you ever witnessed someone in a different context or location, and been surprised by any of their actions? Why do you think someone might act differently in certain situations or when surrounded by certain people? Do you think boys can be nice to each other and their families, and still treat girls badly? Explain your answers.
17. After Mila starts karate classes, Samira notices the difference in her, saying, “I think it’s such a good idea that you’re taking it.” Do you agree with Samira? Discuss the ways that karate helps Mila. Do you do any activities that help make you feel better in other parts of your life?
18. After reading the book, think back to the boys’ actions in the beginning. Why do you think the boys started treating Mila this way? What do you think they wanted out of the interactions? Why do you think they continued to act? Do you think if they had a conversation about sexual harassment at the beginning of the book, they would have made the same choices?
19. Think about respect. How do you show respect for others? What level of respect do you expect and accept from others? How do you know if something is off-limits, or if it would hurt someone? Identify scenes from the book where people are respected or disrespected, and discuss how you would support or change these interactions to make everyone feel respected.
20. At the fall concert, Dante teases Callum by saying, “‘You should wear skirts more often.’” Why do you think boys’ insults to one another often revolve around being “girly”? How might this affect the way they view or interact with girls, or how girls feel about themselves?
21. When Liana tells Mila what happened to her at the pool, she feels “all these emotions swirling around like crazy.” How did you feel when you found out that Mila wasn’t the only target? Why might it be helpful for Mila to have someone to talk to who knows what she’s going through?
22. When Mila discovers that Ms. Fender is a good listener, she tells her everything and finally feels like she’s being heard. Why do you think it’s important to feel believed and heard? Do you have someone in your life whom you trust to listen to you?
23. Why do you think Callum comes to karate class at the end of the book? Does it change any of your perceptions of him? What do you think that means for him and Mila?
24. Do you believe that the boys’ behavior will change? Do you have any suggestions about how this can be accomplished? Do you think Mila will ever feel safe around them again?
1. Find a notebook, journal, or paper and pen. Use them to answer these questions: How would you know if you or a friend were being sexually harassed? What actions could you take if you found yourself in Mila’s situation? Then work with a partner to discuss the similarities and differences between your answers, and brainstorm additional signs of harassment or actions you could take to stop it. Think about Mila’s experiences. Why do you think sexual harassment can be so challenging to acknowledge and address?
2. Look up the definitions of these words and phrases, and write a report demonstrating that you understand what they mean:
3. Design a poster for your school, educating students on sexual harassment. List ways that students can identify sexual harassment, and also actions they can take to end the harassment.
4. Research female empowerment groups or organizations in your community or nationwide like #BUILTBYGIRLS, WriteGirl, or Girl Up. How do they help girls feel more empowered? How might these attitudes or behaviors translate to your daily life?
5. Choose one of the harassment scenes from the book and write a skit that can be performed in your classroom. Try portraying the scene a few different ways, where the person playing Mila tries different tactics or techniques. How does that change the harasser’s response? How does the scene change with different reactions from onlookers?
6. Find out if your school has a sexual harassment policy. If so, write about its strengths and weaknesses. Can you suggest any additions? If not, draft a policy with your classmates.
7. Choose one of the characters from the book, and write a conversation that they might have with another friend, sibling, or classmate about what is happening to Mila at school.
Guide written by Bobbie Combs, a consultant at We Love Children's Books.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.