Whether or not we want to believe it, reality TV has changed the face of entertainment. From "Survivor," to "The Bachelor," to "Keeping Up With The Kardashians," many people find these shows to be the ultimate guilty pleasure. But how real is reality TV? And, what happens when you grow up on a show?
New York City native Heather Demetrios, beautifully examines what life may be like growing up on television with her debut young adult novel Something Real. The book follows 17-year-old Bonnie™ Baker who stars in the reality show "Baker's Dozen." All Bonnie™ wants is to live a normal life and has to take drastic measures to gain her freedom. The book is extremely thought-provoking, and eye-opening, and makes you look at reality TV in a completely different light. Something Real is already receiving praise, even winning of the Susan P. Bloom PEN New England Discovery Award.
The book is available now and I caught up with author Heather Demetrios to get the latest scope on her fabulous debut.
What was the inspiration behind your book Something Real?
I saw a People magazine a couple years ago with Kate Gosselin and her kids on the cover and my first thought was, what is it going to be like for those kids when they become teenagers? That was all I needed to get excited about the book. It's basically a "what if?" story and I took it to one possible logical conclusion. I mean, it's hard enough being a teenager. Everyone's watching everyone, you're trying to figure out who you are, and what boundaries to push. But to do that on national television? Yikes.
Have you always been fascinated with reality TV? And If so, do you have a favorite reality TV show?
I have always been fascinated by it, yeah. But probably not in the way most people would think. When "Survivor" came out, it was the summer before my senior year in high school. I was living in the Ukraine, so I wasn't part of the whole craze and when I got home, I just didn't get what people were so excited about. What was most interesting to me was thinking about why people were into it. I knew that people were on reality TV because they wanted their chance at fame or fortune or whatever the show promised to give them. But why do people watch Jersey Shore or The Bachelor? Life is short, you know? I just want more for us, for our society.
While reading Something Real, a couple different reality TV shows came to mind such as "Keeping Up With The Kardashians," and "Jon & Kate Plus 8." Did you pull from those shows at all for inspiration?
"Jon and Kate Plus 8" was definitely the most inspirational. I've never seen the Kardashians and I only watched "Jon and Kate" after I decided to write the book. When I'm mad about something I write about it and that show definitely made me mad. What's been really cool about this book is the opportunity it has given me to get on my reality TV soapbox. I actually think shows that feature talented people can be really cool -- the cooking shows, Project Runway... these shows have an educational component and it's interesting to see behind the scenes of those worlds. But I really question if it should even be legal to have kids on reality TV. It's a really grey area. Can these kids consent to this with the full knowledge of what they're doing? I can't imagine how much it would have sucked to have the entire country watch my parents' marriage fall apart. Or for people to be able to access videos of me growing up: tantrums, fights with siblings, all that stuff.
The heart of the story seems to be the bond between siblings Bonnie™ and Benny™. Why was their relationship so important to you?
I've talked about this a lot, but Benny just came to me. I swear he's real. This relationship wasn't something I thought about ahead of time, it's just what happened, it just was. I'm doing a panel at the NYC Teen Author Festival in March and it's about creating support systems for your characters. It's funny because I never thought about Benny™ or Patrick or anyone as Bonnie™'s support system, although, of course, they are. I didn't set out to give her this support intentionally, but looking back, of course Bonnie™ had Benny™ by her side. How could she have survived the insanity?
Do you have any authors that you look up to?
Only about a million! This is such an amazing time to be writing YA right now. I mean, you've got John Green and Rainbow Rowell, David Levithan and E. Lockhart. Not to mention gorgeous fantasy writers like Laini Taylor and Maggie Stiefvater. I also really love Patrick Ness, specifically his Chaos Walking trilogy. I'm working with A.S. King right now for my MFA (I'll get it in July from Vermont College of Fine Arts' Writing for Children and Young Adults program) and she's just amazing. M.T. Anderson... I could go on and on.
If you had to describe your book in one word, what would it be?
"Magnificent" -- ha! No, I'm kidding. This is hard. I think maybe, "addictive," because that's the adjective I hear most. I'm assuming that's a good thing, although crack is addictive, too. Let's just decide "addictive" to describe Something Real is okay. Don't do crack. It's super bad for you. But do YA. It's like eating vegetables that taste like chocolate: it goes down nice, but it's good for you, too.