Young-adult fiction author Laura L. Smith writes not just to entertain, but to get people -- particularly young girls -- talking about difficult topics.
Her latest novel, It's Complicated, involves the sexual assault of a college freshman. She said she decided to write the book, her fourth, after two college students approached her on separate occasions to say they had been sexually assaulted. Both asked her to write a book to raise awareness of the topic.
"It's such a frightening and relevant topic that needs to be talked about, so I want to get people talking about it," Smith said. "It happens. It happens to good girls. It happens to girls who least expect it. It happens in places you don't expect it."
In fact, Smith said, one in three girls will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate from college.
"That frightens me, so that's why I wanted to write about it," Smith said.
The release of the book coincides with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The book follows four female college freshmen dealing with complicated relationships. Different chapters are told from different characters' points of view, Smith said.
"They're all very unique," Smith said. "It's been a challenge (to write from four points of view), but it's been exciting to show it that way."
It's Complicated is the first in the Status Update series of four books following the four friends. In the second, It's Over, each of the girls deals with a different type of loss. The new book was scheduled to be released Friday, April 19.
Smith, whose maiden name was Wheeler, is a Westerville native and Westerville North High School graduate who now lives in Miami, where her husband is a professor at the university.
She writes and takes care of her four children, ages 14, 11, 9 and 6.
Smith said she has always been a writer but never expected to find herself in the young-adult genre.
"I always wanted to write, but I always thought I'd write fantasy because that's what I loved to read," she said.
She wrote her first novel, Skinny, to encourage discussion about eating disorders, something that she had seen friends struggle with at different stages in her life.
"That was really heavy on my heart, and I wanted to address that issue," Smith said.
Writing about teenage characters made sense to her, Smith said, because teenage experiences stick with people and shape who they are.
"Those are such formative years that those memories really imbed themselves," Smith said.
All of her novels have a Christian perspective influenced by Smith's own faith.
"When I have trials or tribulations in my life, I always turn toward my faith to get myself through them, so my characters always rely on their faith in difficult times," Smith said.
The books are being published by Playlist Fiction, created by Smith's literary agency, MacGregor Literary. The label focuses on a handful of young-adult writers and includes a website with blogs and articles aimed at getting readers engaged with the authors, Smith said.
"(Young-adult readers) want to know what you drink at Starbucks and what you're favorite books are," Smith said. "We want them to know who we are and what we stand for."