As a child of the 80s and 90s, I’m hard-pressed to remember a time when reality TV didn’t rule the airwaves. It’s become such a basic cultural facet, whether it’s served up competition-style or you’re just watching a bunch of strangers claw each other’s eyes out (metaphorically, of course…mostly), that it’s amazing to think there was a time before we could watch total strangers “stop being polite…and start getting real.” Fortunately, these books and authors offer a far more cerebral way to take in the “real-life” drama.
Something Real, by Heather Demetrios
Don’t let the deceptively bright cover fool you—there’s something wonderfully and authentically dark about this look inside a reality TV family from the perspective of one of its own. After a four-year hiatus from having her entire life filmed, Bonnie Baker is back in the public eye, whether she likes it or not. And she definitely doesn’t. Especially not since it jeopardizes both her budding romance and her brother’s long-term, closeted one. The aforementioned relationships are only two of the exceedingly well-crafted ones in this can’t-miss debut that’ll make you wish you could hug every one of Jon and Kate’s eight.
The Real Real, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
This foray into YA has all the pop-y, tabloid-y fun you’d expect from the authors of The Nanny Diaries—the perfect beach read about the inner workings and outer deception of the reality TV industry, particularly for anyone who’s grown up with The Real World. (And given how long it’s been running, who hasn’t?)
Taste Test, by Kelly Fiore
As a die-hard fan of Top Chef, Chopped, and pretty much every other cooking competition show under the sun, I couldn’t have asked for a more exciting YA premise than the one delivered by Fiore here. A fast-paced read full of backstabbing and betrayal (and—blissfully—recipes), this is definitely a cast of characters that didn’t come here to make friends.
L.A. Candy, by Lauren Conrad
There’s often a little skepticism that accompanies the declaration that a celebrity has written a book, but when you think about it, who could possibly know more insider info on reality TV life than the Laguna Beach/The Hills star herself? Armed with that realization, I was happy to have thoroughly enjoyed this one…and find myself missing the days I parked myself on the couch to watch it play out “live.”
Reality Boy, by A. S. King
For my money, King is doing some of the most interesting and creative things in YA today. I fell hard and fast for Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and feel boundless love for Astrid of Ask the Passengers, so King’s newest is a no-brainer addition to my to-read list. Unlike the others mentioned here, it focuses on life after “reality”—what it’s like when the rest of the world thinks they know you, and surviving the family members who all still feel the aftereffects in their own way.
The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy, by Kate Hattemer
As artistically crafted and poetry-centric as its name would suggest, this debut made me laugh out loud a couple hundred times or so. Ethan and his friends are poetic misfit idealists, looking to reclaim their school from the artist reality show that’s constantly pervading their lives and education…and breaking Ethan’s heart over one of its stars in the process. The whole thing is more than a little meta when it comes to where the lines between art and reality are joined, and if you’re not sold enough by the epic poem or the fun, quirky characters, you’ll definitely fall in love with the book’s furry little mascot, Baconnaise.
What reality TV-themed YAs are you loving?