Debut author Becky Albertalli shares her favorite LGBTQIA+ young adult books in this exclusive interview.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a touching coming-of-age story wrapped up in an online mystery.
We spoke to author Becky Albertalli about how her work as a clinical psychologist helped inspire her writing, and the changes she would like to see in young adult fiction to better represent LGBTQIA+ or gender nonconforming teenagers.
You have worked as a clinical psychologist and with a support group for gender nonconforming kids. How did these experiences inform the inspiration and creation of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda?
I am honestly so mystified by my own writing process, and I can’t always pinpoint where my inspiration comes from! That being said, my decision to write a book about a gay teenage boy certainly wasn’t random. As a psychologist, my first priority is to protect the confidentiality of my former clients, so I’m very careful not to borrow any of their stories for my fiction.
However, in a general sense, I am very inspired by the teens I’ve worked with, especially those who identify as LGBTQIA+ or gender nonconforming. They are funny, smart, brave, and awesome, and they have touched my life in ways I’m only beginning to understand.
Based on your experiences working with these kids, and now also as a YA author, what do you think YA fiction can do better in terms of writing about LGBTQIA+ teens? Are there aspects that you would like to see more, or less, of?
I’m actually so thrilled by much of the recently released LGBTQIA+ YA, and there are even more amazing titles in the pipeline. I would love to see even more representation of a variety of LGBTQIA+ experiences: coming out stories, love stories, fantasy and sci fi titles featuring queer main characters, LGBTQIA+ historical titles, contemporary LGBTQIA+ titles aimed at younger teens, and so much more. In particular, I think we need more stories about kids who identify in one of the less well-represented groups under this umbrella (for example, stories about intersex characters, like I.W. Gregorio’s None of the Above).
I’d also love to see more intersectional diversity (characters who belong to more than one marginalized group, like the gay, Puerto Rican main character of Adam Silvera’s upcoming More Happy Than Not or the lesbian, Korean-American star of Dahlia Adler’s upcoming Under the Lights).
You are a debut author, and Simon is a remarkably strong debut. Which YA authors and books have influenced or inspired you as an author?
Thank you so, so much! I think the author who has had the single greatest influence on my work is Jaclyn Moriarty. I’ve been in love with her Ashbury/Brookfield series for years, and I still think she creates some of the most vivid, realistic teen characters I’ve ever read. I also love the way she plays with form – I think her stories are a major reason I was inspired to try an epistolary format for parts of my book.
This is a story about a relatively liberal family living in a relatively conservative part of America. Tell me a little about why you chose to set Simon in Atlanta, and how the setting affected the final story.
Oh my goodness – this will be the most boring answer ever. I grew up in a liberal family living outside Atlanta. Simon’s suburb is a thinly veiled version of my hometown, and even his high school was closely based on my own. Setting the book in such a familiar place really helped anchor me as I was writing. That being said, the Atlanta suburbs ended up being the most perfect backdrop to this story. Atlanta is such an interesting study in contradiction – it’s actually a very liberal, progressive city, but many of the suburbs are among the most conservative districts of the country.
I think Simon’s overall comfort with being gay has much to do with the fact that his family and friends are generally loving and supportive. However, his reluctance to come out is undoubtedly influenced by the microaggressions he encounters in his broader environment.
Every single character in Simon is extremely well developed. Even when we only have a glimpse of them on the page, there is enough to demonstrate to the reader that they are all complex people in their own right, rather than merely existing in Simon’s orbit. Are you an author who knows exactly what is going on with every character behind-the-scenes of the novel, or do they only exist on the page?
I am definitely an author who knows all kinds of random facts about my characters that don’t appear in the novel. I think the term for this is “headcanon”? But, yes, I can probably tell you the middle names and family background of every one of my minor characters, and I have entire futures mapped out in my head for these kids. It’s pretty ridiculous.
And speaking of the minor characters, Simon was part of a two book deal. As book two will be a companion, can we expect to see any character crossovers between the two? Will the book be a sequel, chronologically, or take place during the events of Simon?
Yup, definitely expect to see some crossover! Book two is still undergoing some intense revisions, so I want to be careful about commenting too specifically about it. However, it actually takes place a few months before Simon begins (beginning in June, while Simon begins in October). It’s about the friends Abby left behind in Washington, DC when she moved to Georgia. So, Abby is back for a pretty significant role, and Simon and Nick get some shoutouts!
Finally, I am sure that like me, many readers will finish Simon and want to read nothing except more of your writing. Aside from the Simon companion, what is next for you?
That is such a nice thing to say! Right now, I’m so focused on Simon’s launch and Book 2 revisions that I haven’t planned many specifics about my next project. However, I tend to be most drawn to contemporary YA projects with diverse casts and lots of kissing. I’m also in the early planning stages of a joint project with Adam Silvera (More Happy Than Not), starring two gay boys in New York City.