Young adult novelist Maria Padian is not afraid to tackle tough issues, from Somali immigrants in Lewiston to eating disorders in ballet dancers. In her fourth and most recent novel, “Wrecked,” to be debuted Monday at the Curtis Memorial Library, Padian, a Brunswick resident, takes on sexual assault on a small college campus. Unlike a number of young adult books focused on the perspective of the victim, “Wrecked” alternates between two points of view, grappling not only with consent but also the way we determine truth.

“I realized that everybody came to that issue with their own set of expectations, with whatever baggage and predispositions we bring to that kind of situation. How do we determine truth from the other side of the closed door when we’re not there?” Padian said. “I wanted [this story] to come from different points of view, so the point of view wasn’t just a narrative device, but it was a theme.”

A fast-paced read, “Wrecked” flips between the perspectives of Haley and Richard, the respective friends of the accused and accuser, as they become involved in the investigation and romantically involved with each other. Between each chapter, the omniscient retelling of the night of the alleged rape draws the reader into a quest for truth in the context of an upheaval of stereotypes.

“I very intentionally did not choose the accused to be a fraternity member [or] a member of a sports team, Padian said. “The accuser is somebody who is new to college and who is trying to make friends. The guy she accuses doesn’t fit a lot of the stereotypes that we see in the news. I wanted to avoid all those stereotypes and instead create a story that could be anybody’s story.”

With down-to-earth characters and a relatable setting, “Wrecked” hits close to home for many high school and college students. While the situation and characters are entirely fictional, the culture of Bowdoin and peer schools persists in the story.

“I went to a small New England school, I live here [in Brunswick], my kids went to small New England schools, so I think the setting and the culture in the book is very much influenced by this type of setting,” Padian said. “People will recognize a small, New England NESCAC school in this book.”

The book forces the reader to confront not only the difficulty of determining truth, but also the blurry lines of political correctness. From “Patagucci” obsessions to apple picking, one can imagine these students at Bowdoin. “The Board,” the book’s equivalent of Yik Yak, heightens its relatability, wreaking havoc and further confusing truth and trust.

“I spoke to everyone from Title IX coordinators to victims,” Padian said. “I read a lot of victim accounts ... I spoke to lawyers who represent young men who have been accused at colleges [of sexual assault]. The hardest part for me was writing the scenes where the kids were actually being interviewed by the investigator ... That’s all sealed and private—no one would ever tell me what that was like.”

Even with this research, Padian knew that a subject like sexual assault was “a minefield.” 

“I lived in fear that some of the early reviewers would decide that this book was not striking the right pose,” Padian said. “I worried somebody would say she’s a victim blamer. Or somebody else would say, ‘My God, she’s been so unfair to the accused.’”

Padian has been meet with positive reviews, however. Critics have been praising her new perspective on this timely subject, as well as the realism of the characters in their struggle to make good choices.

These realistic characters, Padian believes, are products of fiction’s unique ability to create empathy.

“I don’t ever start with plots, I start with character ... But how do you really create a character?” Padian said. “You have to get into the skin of this person that you may not really have anything in common with. The process of writing a character involves radical empathy.”

This empathy, according to Padian, allows for more open conversation. She says books allow people to say things they might not if they were discussing real people and real events.
“Fiction frees us up to maybe speak more honestly,” she said.

Padian hopes the book will initiate honesty surrounding the conversation on sexual assault on college campuses.

“My highest aspiration for the book is that it sparks conversation,” Padian said. “Really difficult, really uncomfortable, really awkward conversations. If there’s going to be any real change, it not going to come from the top-down ... it’s going to come from you folks, living in this world, having these conversations yourselves and deciding what you want to do and how to talk with each other about these issues.”

Padian will read from “Wrecked” at the Curtis Memorial Library on Monday, October 3 at 7 p.m. The event, open to the public, will include a book sale, door prizes and food.