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Red Hook author brings world of the projects to life

Growing up in the gritty world of the Red Hook projects, the last thing on Torrey Maldonado’s mind was becoming an author and becoming a role model.

But Maldonado, a teacher at Park Slope’s IS 88, has become exactly that — in the classroom and through his first novel, “Secret Saturdays,” a story of adolescent male friendship against an inner city backdrop that is familiar in its violence, braggadocio and high stakes.

Maldonado paints from life. The story of Justin and Sean — half-black and half-Puerto Rican pals — draws from his own early life in South Brooklyn, creating what he called a “poignant narrative, that shows the more tender side and the other side of males.”

It’s the tenderness that is the challenge. In Justin’s world, as in Maldonado’s, it’s important to be tough, to “diss” others before they do it to you.

“Boys are bombarded with macho images, muscular, strong, physically powerful images, so they shy away from doing anything that makes them look soft,” Maldonado mused. “What I hoped to accomplish with ‘Secret Saturdays’ is getting pre-teens and teens to start to question certain behaviors that are limiting and self-destructive.”

As for bullying, Maldonado knows first-hand what it’s like to be on the receiving end. In middle school, he was harassed by a group of boys — the same thugs who would later kill popular Red Hook principal Patrick Daly, the inspirational leader of PS 15, which Maldonado also attended.

Years later, a student at Vassar College, he encountered one of the youths at a prison in upstate New York. Maldonado was there as a tutor; the youth was there as a prisoner for his role in Daly’s murder.

The role reversal wasn’t lost on Maldonado.

“In junior high school,” he recalled, “I wanted to be respected like he was respected. He was the man in my school, quick with a diss. He never had to raise his fist because he could cut someone down with his words. I tried to take a different route and not be him, and here I am, the first person in my immediate family to graduate college, to go on to write a book. My life feels full of promise. I am living up to my potential.”

For that, he credits his mom, who stressed education, and Daly himself, who provided it.

Now, Maldonado gives readings in schools, hoping that he can inspire inner-city kids going through what he survived.

But the feedback he gets actually ends up inspiring him.

“The kids tell me they don’t like reading, but that my book feels like a movie or a video,” he said. “It didn’t feel like reading. I’m hoping they get the same rush they get from other thrills in their life.”

Torrey Maldonado at the Red Hook Public Library [7 Wolcott St. at Dwight Street, (718) 935-0203], May 18 at 4 pm; and the Brooklyn Heights Library [280 Cadman Plaza West between Tillary and Johnson streets, (718) 623-7100], May 19 at 5:30 pm.

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