I enjoyed Lakita Wilson’s new middle grade novel, Be Real, Macy Weaver! about a middle schooler who lies about her life to form new friendships. Today, I’m chatting with Lakita about the parallels in her and Macy’s life, her relationship with fashion, and why she wrote about a different kind of bad parent. You’ll enjoy this conversation!
Interview with Author Lakita Wilson
Hi Lakita, welcome to Reading Middle Grade, and congratulations on your debut middle grade novel, Be Real, Macy Weaver! It’s not your first rodeo as a writer, so I’m curious, have you always loved writing? When did you decide you wanted to write books–and books for kids at that?
Hi! I have always loved writing and actually wrote my first story around six years old. It was a story about a boy named Sam who had trouble making friends. He tried everything to get them to like him, but things were hard for poor Sam. I guess you can say that story was technically the first draft of Be Real, Macy Weaver. Ha! Same theme, same plot.
The first story I wrote for a school assignment was about a girl who accidentally witnessed her mother giving birth. I included very graphic illustrations. Apparently, I was challenging book bans as a third grader. There’s no way I would’ve stood for my story being excluded from the Write-a-Book contest, haha.
I began writing seriously as an adult in 2017. I wanted to write stories about children that I didn’t see on shelves growing up. Too many of us grew up in a representation desert—clinging to the handful of characters who looked like us in media. Thankfully, many of us grew up and decided to create the characters we needed to see growing up, and it feels good that future generations will have more to choose from on shelves.I wanted to write stories about children that I didn’t see on shelves growing up. Too many of us grew up in a representation desert—clinging to the handful of characters who looked like us in media. – @LakitaWrites Click To Tweet
Tell us a bit about Macy Weaver and what inspired this story?
I began writing Macy’s story in the middle of my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I had spent so much time on another story, and this was my opportunity to start over. I thought about what I wanted to write about and searched my memory bank for struggles that I had as a kid. Wanting to fit in and belong, kept popping up. So, I went with it.
The story has evolved so much from when I first began drafting it, though. I think there was even a cafeteria fight scene, haha. My editor helped me shed some of the extra action and refocus on the heart of the story.
Can I be honest? I really disliked Macy in the beginning (and for the entire first half of the story). Dishonesty is such a pet peeve for me. Were you worried about people not liking Macy?
Macy’s former best friends share your sentiment! Ha! They wanted a true friend—not a copycat version of themselves. But, Macy had to go through those experiences, to learn that being inauthentic isn’t just difficult, it also creates more distance between the very people you’re trying to draw closer.
Thankfully, life is about learning from our mistakes and growing into our best authentic selves. The closer Macy got to being herself, the more you were able to connect with her. That’s no coincidence.
No, I wasn’t worried about people not liking Macy. The world doesn’t only place nice, well-developed, perfect characters in our lives. We exist with a wide range of people—some will be easy to love, some won’t, and some you will learn to put up boundaries with or suffer for it.
I didn’t necessarily think some of Macy’s former best friends were wrong to dump her. This book is all about finding community and those that you can connect with. Could those friends have had more patience with Macy? Sure. Could they have tried to get Macy to be herself? Of course. But we all—child and adult—have the right to decide what feels right to us, and who we allow in our space.
Friendship break-ups hurt. But I believe the end of those friendships were opportunities for Macy to look inward and choose healthier actions moving forward. Now, how long did it take Macy to choose healthier options? Did she ever get things right? The answer to this mystery lies in the pages.The world doesn’t only place nice, well-developed, perfect characters in our lives. We exist with a wide range of people—some will be easy to love, some won’t – Lakita Wilson on Be Real, Macy Weaver! Click To Tweet
I had a friend in middle school who lied to us a bunch too about her parents and their “mansion,” ha! She eventually came clean and we felt a lot of compassion for her–like I did for Macy eventually. It all comes down to finding your tribe–a common middle grade theme. I’m curious whether any persons inspired the tribe you built for Macy? I really liked Grace.
There’s a reason why people make up things about themselves. They desperately want acceptance. Feeling unworthy doesn’t usually start from the inside. What made your friend think that her living space wasn’t good enough? A bully? A frenemy? Maybe her parents complained about their living conditions at home. Or maybe images in media constantly attached worth to wealth.
We often don’t see the seeds of insecurity being planted in a person. But we live with the effects of what has taken root in people every day. I do think there is room for compassion, even before a person “comes clean” or becomes the “perfect friend.” But, I also believe in setting boundaries, and protecting your space—so it’s all a personal choice.
Were some of the characters inspired by people I know? Of course. Brynn and Grace are completely made up, but Macy and Pax are me and my bestie, Fred. We found each other in high school. I was busy trying to fit in and failing at it. He was busy handing our English teacher VHS tapes of obscure movies to watch in her spare time at home. We were an epic best friendship waiting to happen.
In the book, Macy watches Pax create his own happiness existing exactly as he is. And that’s exactly what I saw in the boy who sat next to me in English class. A kid who said and did exactly what he wanted. Like Macy, I began to realize I was having more fun being myself, and goofing off with my future bestie, than lurking around the cool kids trying to look like I belonged there.
Fun and laughter are my love languages, and that’s the foundation of my friendship with my bestie. That friendship became my happy place—it was one of the only spaces at the time where I felt authentically myself.
Macy and Pax grew closer over their shared love of fashion design. Hanging out at Macy’s house, working on their designs, became their happy place—one of the few spaces where they could simply be themselves.
Do you know why Macy and Pax’s friendship works so well? Macy never put Pax on a pedestal. With all of her other friendships, she treated the friend like they were above her, someone she had to jump up to reach. But not, Pax. He wasn’t above her or beneath her. He was right there next to her. And standing next to each other, at eye level, they were able to truly see each other, and connect in a real way.
Fashion plays a major role in this story. What’s your story with fashion, and why did you want to make it a big part of Macy’s story?
I thought I fell in love with fashion when I couldn’t have the designer stuff I wanted as a preteen. And honestly, my parents were 100% right not to buy a twelve-year-old a three-hundred-dollar belt.
The truth is, my love for fashion wasn’t healthy or true—it was fickle—willing to bend and twist at the whims of what everyone else deemed acceptable. I wanted those labels because they felt like a fast-track ticket to instant acceptance. I was the high school version of Macy Weaver at her worst—working a full-time job to buy up a bunch of poorly stitched together overpriced knock-off designer stuff that still didn’t get me any respect.
I didn’t learn to love fashion in a healthy way until I was much older. The fake Fendi bags with the upside down F’s stitched into the seams never brought me the happiness or sense of belonging that I craved.
Somewhere, in my senior year of high school, I began collecting Vogue magazines. I still couldn’t afford anything in there, but I loved how some of the clothes looked like nothing I’d ever seen before. Unique pieces, that fascinated me.
I still can’t afford Haute Couture—however, I try to find unique pieces that catch my eye. Accessories that make me smile, or fabric that feels fabulous on my skin. As I was drafting Be Real, Macy Weaver, Macy and Pax’s fashion line randomly inspired me to never buy clothes from a store again, and to only have things hand made. I had one unique skirt made, and then the pandemic hit, and only onesies and old sweats made me happy. One day, I will get back to my dream of designing my own wardrobe! Lol.
I wanted to make fashion a big part of Macy’s story because people often use clothes to determine a person’s worth when fashion is literally about self-expression. I figured Macy couldn’t create her own wardrobe without discovering who she is and what she likes first. The fashion design was a tool I used to help Macy rediscover herself.
I have to ask about Macy’s mother. (What was her problem?!) I think it’s so important to reflect a range of parents in children’s stories. What inspired this character?
When I was an elementary school teacher, I would see some parents come in to visit, and they would present very well and seem perfect. Then my students would tell me awful things, that weren’t illegal, but still made my heart ache for these children—because they deserved better.
I wanted Macy’s mom to exhibit bad behavior that isn’t always so easy to detect. Sometimes, in novels, when we meet the “bad parent,” they are blatantly awful. There’s obvious abuse or neglect. Or substance abuse issues—things you can easily point to and say, “Wow. Let’s get this kid out of this home and into a better situation.”
And then you have parents who present fabulously to people who don’t know them very well. Or to children who desperately want to see their parents as good people. Well dressed, an angelic laugh, charismatic, and may appear to have it all together. They say sweet words to their children—even if there is no follow-through.
As adult readers, we can easily spot Macy’s mother’s messiness. She’s a liar, and a manipulator—who calls her daughter “sweetie” and “Mommy’s baby”—then doesn’t come home for weeks, and isn’t really there when Macy needs her.
This can be very confusing for a child who wants to believe the best about their parent. For some kids, it’s easier to let snippets of fun and affection overshadow weeks of pain and disappointment.
Other children understand their parent’s bad behavior, but their feelings about the behavior are never validated. I wrote this kind of Mom into the story for the children who live (or don’t live) with a parent who behaves in similar ways.
I always ask: which great middle grade books have you read recently?
Nura and the Immortal Palace by M.T. Khan blew me away. The author took the real-world issue of child labor in Pakistan and set it in a fantasy world where children are forced to make hard choices. I promise you, people are going to be talking about this book for a long time. It’s beautifully written, and such an important read. I can’t sing it enough praises.
I also loved The View From The Very Best House in Town, by Meera Trehan. A contemporary story set in the suburbs, where a boy on the autistic spectrum thinks he’s befriending a girl who lives in this castle-like house on the hill. I could talk about all the symbolism in the book—how what we idolize isn’t always as put together as it seems, but what really touched my heart was how well the author was able to make me hurt for almost every character in the book. This is a story teachers will want to use in the classroom to teach empathy and relationship building. I loved it so much.
You have a young adult book in the making–how’s that been different from working with middle grade and picture books?
I think we can explore the same topics in picture books, middle grade, and YA. The world around us just gets bigger, the older we get. And we go from letting go of our parents’ hand to explore the world to exploring our neighborhood without our parents’ eyes on us, to taking a secret cross-country trip during Spring Break. Each of the stories is about seeking out independence, but it’s told differently according to the age range of the reader.
What’s one thing you hope readers take from Macy’s story?
I want readers to find the bravery to be themselves. And know that there are friends and community for each person on this earth. A kid shouldn’t have to change who they are to grow closer to a certain group of people. The right people will find you, and love the real you, every time.I want readers to find the bravery to be themselves. And know that there are friends and community for each person on this earth. A kid shouldn’t have to change who they are to grow closer to a certain group of people. Click To Tweet
Thanks so much, Lakita! I’m excited for the world to meet Macy and her crew.
Buy Be Real, Macy Weaver
Meet Lakita Wilson
Lakita Wilson is the author of several novels and non-fiction projects for children and young adults, including What Is Black Lives Matter?, a part of the New York Times Bestselling HQ Now series; Be Real, Macy Weaver, a coming of age middle grade friendship story; and a few other secret projects she isn’t allowed to tell you about yet.
Lakita was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland. A 2017 recipient of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices Award, Lakita received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is currently on faculty at Prince George’s Community College in the Education Department. Lakita lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland with her two children and Shih-Tzu. You can also visit her website, twitter and Instagram.