I understood the joke.
I am Doug.
Like the main character in the book, I’ve never embraced hugs.
I can hug, but rarely do I want to. I’m bad at them, despite appreciating them and wanting others to enjoy theirs. I’d rather just nod hello or wave goodbye. I think it stems from allergies; a simple hug with someone who owns a cat can ruin my day and drown me in Benadryl. Not everyone is meant to be physically close to others, for a myriad of reasons.
Hugs have been on my mind a lot lately, though, because they’re coming back. We were all Doug for a year, but as we’ve started to come out of this social isolation with vaccines, people have said to each other — and to me — “When this is all over, I can’t wait to give you the biggest hug!” Yikes!
That’s why I got a copy of Finison’s book and decided it counted as self-help literature, perfect for this column, in which writer Christina Tucker and I are examining books designed to help people improve or cope. “Don’t Hug Doug” can make kids feel better about their own boundaries, and challenge them to understand the comfort of others. But really, it gives grown-ups something to consider, too.
At least some people are going to feel different about physical touch and space after what we’ve experienced during COVID-19. What if we were better about talking about it? What if everyone got the chance to think about what they want and reset?
My favorite page in “Don’t Hug Doug” has Doug asking, “Who here likes hugs?” and a bunch of faces — by illustrator Daniel Wiseman — give very different answers. “Sometimes!” one says. “When I’m sad,” admits another. “From certain people,” says a third, which makes a lot of sense.
I talked to the author about why she wrote this book for kids, and what adults are getting out of it too.
Q. What inspired the book?
A. I thought it would be an interesting conflict to write about. The original version of the story was about a boy who had some relatives coming to visit. He did not want hugs from these people, and so it was about all the different ways but he was kind of trying to avoid getting a hug from them. And I kind of struggled with how to end it because it was told in a more traditional, third-person kind of way. I put it away for over a year. Then the election of 2016 happened. It was probably 2017 when I pulled it out again, and the #MeToo movement was happening, and I was like, “You know what, it actually is really important to talk about this.” And to start talking about it at a young age.
Q. The book came out after we all had to rethink consent in complicated ways. “Are you comfortable with me taking my mask off while we walk, or sit in my backyard?” Some adults who’d never had conversations about comfort and boundaries were asking, “What’s your comfort level with this simple activity?” I just wondered how COVID-19 put a finer point on the book. I will tell you that as a Doug, I’m anxious about how thirsty the people in my life are for hugs. I also think there could be a moment where more people feel like me — and like Doug.
A.I was actually a little concerned with the book coming out right now because I thought, now is the time when everyone’s dying for a hug. Like, a lot of people really want to hug. But I think what you say is really true.Now more than ever it’s really important to have those conversations.
Q. This book offers some alternatives to hugging. I appreciated that.
A. It’s been interesting because, as parents, we want children to respectfully greet people. You’re not going to walk off and like not say hello at all. But I think [it helps to have] a range in your arsenal of ways you can say hello to people.
Q. Are there other books you turned to when you took this on?
A. When I started in 2015, I wouldn’t say it wasn’t on the radar, but since then, there are people called consent educators who talk about this stuff all the time. There have been a lot of books coming out. I don’t know if you ever saw those Tea Consent videos. They did this consent-for-kids video, and then a book [”Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of You”]. It’s really good. A friend of mine [Katey Howes] just came out with “Rissy No Kisses.” [The book is about a literal lovebird who’d rather not smooch.]
“Don’t Hug Doug,” by Carrie Finison, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, $16.99.
Interview was edited and condensed.
Carrie Finison will talk about “Don’t Hug Doug” at an online event hosted by The Silver Unicorn Bookstore in Acton on May 13. Meredith Goldstein writes the Love Letters advice column. She also reviews self-help books in this column with Christina Tucker. Meredith can be reached with a high five or handshake at Meredith.Goldstein@Globe.com.