The video isn't one of those grainy-type deals, where you can barely make out who's pushing up on who.
It's very clear: Mr. E is having sex with a dark-haired female student, and, well, they both appear to be enjoying themselves. From their Docs, everyone at Parkside Prep has a front row seat to this sex tape, and everyone sees the dark-haired woman when she flips her hair. It's soon-to-be valedictorian and resident popular girl, Kyla Cheng.
This is the story of The Takedown, written by Corrie Wang. Tall with short blonde hair and glasses, you may recognize Wang as the face behind the counter of Short Grain food truck. But that's just one of her jobs. Wang is, in fact, a humble Young Adult author who just had her first book published. Well, not just published — it's being issued by Disney's FreeForm Books. Yes, that Disney.
But let's go back five years. How did Wang, a 20-something then working at a literary agency while waiting tables in Brooklyn, score a Disney deal?
"The funny thing is that the general spark of an idea started on an online date five years ago. I was just having drinks with a guy and I can't remember what he said, but I went home and wrote like 40 pages. That never happens," says Wang. "Nobody is ever like, 'You should write a book about this,' and you say, 'Oh that's a great idea!'"
The spark — maybe the date was texting at the table, or perhaps he was bemoaning the pitfalls of online dating — probably had something to do with technology's growing presence, and importance, in our society.
"There was definitely my own fear and use of social media. Waiting tables I'd see parents hand their phone to little babies and they'd be swiping through screens," says Wang. "I couldn't help thinking, 'What will those kids be like in 15 years?'" Those kids may be like Kyla, Sharma, Fawn, and Audra, the four most popular girls at Parkside. They're all beautiful and smart, and they run their school — that is until the whole sex tape thing.
The Takedown is set in no particular time period, with Wang specifying that it's sometime in the "near future." And technology isn't just omnipresent — it's everything. How do you think that sex tape was made?
- Jonathan Boncek
- "I went to school at Binghamton and did a Gen Lit and Art degree. I got out of school and thought I wanted to do design," says wang. "then one day I was reading a John Irving novel and thought 'I could do this.'"
In this near-future world cars show up at your beck and call, like Ubers, but without drivers. People wear devices in their ears so that the many languages they hear on the street make sense, translated instantly. You can connect your phone to the homeless guy's Doc on the metro (if you deign to take public transportation) and send him some money via your credit card. It could all sound crazy ... if it didn't make so much sense.
"We're like one step out," says Wang of the techno-centric world we currently live in. "When I first started the book it was a little more out there and you'd think, 'How are they gonna do that?' and now I see, 'Oh, they can totally do that.'"
Wang has experienced firsthand the lasting effects of the internet. Granted, there's no sex tape floating around of our esteemed YA author, but Wang does tell us that she has some Google baggage. "I worked at a college newspaper (Binghamton University) and it was one of the things a sports guy wrote about me and every time you searched me, it was the not nice thing he wrote." says Wang. "That stuff just doesn't go away. It was fun to think about how that would stay with you always, especially if it had a lot of views."
So Wang created a story in which a main character, despite all of her strengths, cannot defeat technology. At least, not immediately (we promise, no spoilers). How do you create a Kyla Cheng? "I just kind of made people," says Wang. "When I started writing the book there was this thing going around about, 'How to write strong females.' I just wanted to focus on friendship and how women and girls interact."
Wang says she was tired of seeing female characters who were bumbling and clumsy. "They were always the underdog, and that's great, and I know people like that, too. But I think the opposite of that was villainizing girls who kind of had their shit together," says Wang. "The more we keep doing that the more we run across, later in life, these walls because it's not acceptable when we're younger to be a girl doing our own thing."
Wang has created powerful, flawed, and realistic female characters in her novel. She has also created a near-future world that looks a lot like what anyone would imagine a near-future America could be: a true melting pot. Almost every character in The Takedown comes from two or more ethnic backgrounds and foreign languages fly left and right. Except, they aren't so foreign. They're just languages.
Living in Brooklyn, Wang says getting to know people of all backgrounds and ethnicities was a given, and eventually, an integral part of her life.
"When I moved to New York City, all the Mexican guys that I worked with at my restaurant kind of adopted me. I almost opened a Spanish nightclub with two of them. And we kinda all spoke halfsies to each other. That's why there's so much Spanish in the book," says Wang. Spanish shows up a lot in The Takedown, mainly as an indicator of the presence of Mackenzie Rodriguez, a.k.a. Mac, Kyla's love interest.
"I felt very adamant about not italicizing the non-English words," she says. And while that consistency lends itself to the multi-language, multi-ethnic world that Wang has created, it didn't always work for her editors. "I used to have a bunch of friends who would pick up the phone and say dimelo (a Spanish greeting) but it looks like you're just saying dime-lo, so we had to come up with a different 'hello' for Mac to have," says Wang.
Little hiccups like this are all part of the creative process, one that Wang fully committed to, not just utilizing what she calls "Corrie's Spanish," but drawing on outside sources like science journals and articles about upcoming technology, and even her teenage sister-in-law. "I have a much younger sister-in-law and one time she sent me a text which was very heartfelt but very dramatic and I was like, 'Oh my gosh this is what it's like to be a teenager.' I haven't been dramatic enough!" says Wang.
And as dramatic as the teens in The Takedown can be — talking in all CAPS (as in, 'you BTCH') and taking slight grudges to their most scraggly edges — they're just kids trying to live in a world that's constantly watching their every move. "You're so aware of how people treat others online," says Wang. "It's so much more in your face. It used to be losing a friend and not getting phone calls anymore, but now you see their lives still being carried on and if you don't have the strongest constitution, it ruins you."
Friendships are tested over and over again in The Takedown, with Kyla questioning the loyalty of friends who password protect their Docs, who say they're one place and whose constant online presence has them popping up somewhere else. Is there such a thing as too much technology? Is it too late for us to even ask that question? Wang explores all of this, through the lens of the most tech-savvy kids we have yet to meet. And she, well, even she doesn't quite have the answer.
"For a while people were trying to get around it and set their book 'before technology' because, you know the cellphone helps you solve the crime in a second," says Wang. "I wanted to fully embrace that to make the story more interesting and tricky."
She's currently working on another YA book as well as a middle grade novel, and she'll be traveling a bit for The Takedown's promotion, including a panel discussion at NYC's Books of Wonder. Until then, she's still reveling in the world of her first published novel.
"I didn't want there to be villains," says Wang of her popular girls — of promiscuous Audra, tech nerd Sharma, foodie Fawn, and Kyla, who at the end of the novel, is both the villain and the victim. "I feel like we all do go through our own stuff and we only see a select element that we show the world."
The Takedown release party will be held Tues. April 11, 6-9 p.m. at Edmund's Oast, with Short Grain bites, a specialty cocktail, and a book signing. Wang will also host a book signing at the West Ashley Barnes and Noble on Sat. April 15, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.