Macmillan’s ReaLITy connecting teens to real world issues

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“I think of the teen years as a cavern surrounded by a confusing maze of tunnels. A program like ReaLITy Reads is the most powerful flashlight you can imagine, illuminating helpful signposts on the way out.”

Kristin Elizabeth Clark, author of Freak Boy, hit the nail on the head for why MacMillan’s newest imprint, ReaLITy, is so fascinating. ReaLITy focuses on the strong writing, important themes, and memorable voices in contemporary YA. This season has seven books, each inspired by the issues of today in hopes of touching the lives of teens everywhere.

Those books? Laurie Halse Anderson’s famous standalone, Speak, which tells the story of Melinda, a high school freshman who is raped at a party and is isolated and cast aside by her peers. The story follows her repression, recovery, and refusal to stay silent.

My Book In Life by Angel by Martine Levitt, a prose novel about a girl who changes her life of prostitution and addiction to protect others, even at the cost of her own freedom. “Imaginary characters. Real life nightmare,” said Levitt on the ReaLITy website.

Clay Carmichael’s coming-of-age story Brother, Brother, that weaves a tale of two brothers who never met until one of them passed away on national television.

“In Brother, Brother, the main character moves from passivity to taking part in his own destiny. He’s learning to pay attention to the world around him and to be the change he wants to see in the world. Waking up and staying aware is important for any teen, for any person of any age for that matter,” said Carmichael.

Second Impact by David and Perri Klass follows Jerry Downing, a high school quarterback who almost killed a girl drunk driving last year. When forced into a project with school reporter Carla Jenson, controversy is sparked when Jerry’s best friend is injured on the field.

Freak Boy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark tells the story of a boy struggling with his gender identity and the risks that come with being different from the crowd.

James Preller’s Before You Go follows Jude the summer before his senior year, falling in love and navigating his own life. However, Jude’s house reeks of a dark silence ever since his little sister drowned seven years ago when Jude was supposed to be watching her. Jude struggles to finally start living again while his life continues to spin out of control.

And last, but not least, is When We Wuz Famous by Greg Takoudes, based on his award-winning movie “Up With Me”.“The whole impetus for making my film was I wanted to feel the raw, grittiness of street life in East Harlem.  I wanted to feel that these characters were true, that they were the same kids I’d pass by on the streets on my way to the subway,” said Takoudes.

The authors of ReaLITy hope to encourage teens to think outside of their comfort zone, even about issues that they aren’t facing.

“What’s great about the ReaLITy books, and the best of contemporary YA lit, is that it tackles issues that teens are facing today, right now, at home and in their neighborhoods and in their schools: social issues, gender issues, political issues, racial issues,” said Greg Takoudes, author of When We Wuz Famous.

All of the ReaLITy authors are focused not only on tackling the issues, but bring an understanding to those who haven’t experienced them.

“After walking a mile in the various protagonist’s kicks, readers who haven’t had up-close, personal experience with sexual assault, drug addiction, racism, or issues of gender identity, will come away with greater understanding and compassion for those who have,” said Clark.

The ReaLITy imprint hopes to expand and include even more moving contemporary novels – but where they are now, with the dedicated authors they have now, is the best start they could have asked for. After all, their authors love contemporary novels as much as they do.

“I love realistic fiction because it has this rare quality of urgency.  Urgency in its characters, urgency in its story, urgency in its settings.  Realistic fiction feels up-close and personal, like it’s happening to me, personally, in real time,” said Takoudes.

For more information, visit the ReaLITy website, where discussion guides and additional book information is available.

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Alejandra De La Fuente

Alejandra de la Fuente is a writer for YA Interrobang.

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