Dark Rising, the second installment in Monica McGurk’s Archangel Prophecies series of young-adult novels was released last month. Her trilogy tells the story of 15-year-old Hope Charmichael, a survivor of child abduction, who faces the trials and tribulations of teenage life while battling the truth of her destiny.

McGurk, senior vice president of strategy and e-commerce at Coca-Cola, is using her voice as an author to make strides against human trafficking. After extensive research for her first book, Dark Hope, McGurk was astounded by the extent of “modern-day slave trading” occurring throughout the world, even right under her nose in Atlanta. Realizing the issue remains unfamiliar to many, she looked for a way to amplify the message to her readers. The mother of three decided to leverage pop culture to build awareness about sex trafficking, through her writing and via social media.

“I couldn’t figure out how there could be so much information available about this problem, and still very few people seemed aware of it, and very few people seemed motivated to do something about it,” she said. “It continues to astound me that around the world, people debate the numbers, around 30 million people are enslaved in some form or fashion. Way more than there have been at any point in human history, and we don’t seem to care."

McGurk was aware of various nonprofits and government organizations working to promote awareness of the issue, but wanted to bring the problem to a younger audience—the target audience of her books. She realized it was all about finding an outlet young readers would relate to.

“Often, people can relate to the problem when it becomes real to them in a medium they can connect to,” she explained, noting that the average age child trafficking victims is 12 to 14. “Pop culture is the medium this age group connects with.” 

She says the enormously popular young-adult novel genre is the perfect platform to spread the message. "Twilight, Hunger Games, you can think of all the titles that kids that age connect to,” she explained. McGurk said it’s all about tapping into the love of reading and reaching young adults on a personal level so they can “become aware and empowered, and perhaps motivated to stand up and demand that our society do something about it.”

Dark Rising

Dark Hope, was published in 2014. Dark Rising was released on June 30, and the final novel in the trilogy, Dark Before Dawn, will be released in 2016. 

After Dark Hope, McGurk began receiving reviews by readers thanking her for making them aware of human trafficking and asking for guidance on how to become involved. She often engaged in follow-up conversations with readers, directing them to local organizations or resources.

Into the Classroom

These chats inspired McGurk to create a Common Core Guide and Teacher’s Discussion Guide for her books, recently released on her website. Teachers were asking for ways to include the series in their curricula. Working in tandem with curriculum experts and with Minnesota schoolteacher Amanda Leddy, McGurk was able to turn the idea into a reality.

McGurk and Leddy exchanged drafts and ideas. Leddy also worked with McGurk to broaden the curriculum to include issues such as bullying. “She was very instrumental in bringing this to life and helping me develop this in a way I never would have been able to by myself,” McGurk said of Leddy.

Ultimately, McGurk created chapter-by-chapter notes and guides allowing for “safe, non-salacious discussion on trafficking” she said. The materials, designed for 8th graders, educate students about warning signs, risk factors and the hazards of trafficking. The guides are available for free download on McGurk’s website and a portion of proceeds from her novels continue to support nonprofits fighting local and global trafficking.

Part of a Tipping Point

But McGurk keeps her efforts in perspective. “I know that what I am doing is not going to change the issue by itself, but this is the kind of thing that if we keep chipping away at it, it will reach a tipping point," she said. "And so if I can be a part of that tipping point, than I will be very pleased.”

McGurk is diligent about maintaining connections with her fans by regularly posting on her social channels—Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. “I try to give updates on where I am on the research, writing and book production process," she explains. "Social media is not a chore for me because it’s connecting with fans. It’s getting the word out—about the book and about trafficking—and at the end of the day, that’s really important."

McGurk even uses the book within her own family to remind her children to be safe, savvy and aware. “They are much more sensitive to what’s going on around them, and aware of warning signs to look for," she said.

It all ties in to McGurk’s quest to write books about resilient female characters, “strong girls and women overcoming big challenges,” as she states on her website.

“At the end of the day, she concluded, "what I wanted to write was a book with a very strong female teen character who actually suffered the consequences of the choices she made, good or bad.”

Dark Rising is available for purchase on Amazon.