Becky Albertalli Discusses Young Adults Struggling with Identity

Becky Albertalli Discusses Young Adults Struggling with Identity

Before Becky discussed her new book with us, she wrote a heartfelt letter to her readers to truly get to the core of why she wrote Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Her message is insightful and honest, and we know that Becky would love for you to share your thoughts with her in the comments box below or using her twitter handle.


Dear reader,

The bravest kids I’ve ever known meet once a month in the basement of a Unitarian church outside Washington, DC. They’re boys in princess gowns and girls with cropped hair – five-year-olds and twelve-year-olds and every age in between. Some of them are trans kids. Some avoid labels. Many of the boys will come to identify themselves as gay. But most of the time they’re still figuring things out. Piecing together their identities is the entire point.

This is a group that thrives on flexibility, change and fluidity. Kids join and leave the group. Names and pronouns change. Parents strategize and discuss and brainstorm and advocate for kids whose needs seem to evolve daily. We – the volunteers, clinicians and parents – make mistakes. We bump along together.

These are the kids who inspired my book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. They’re a few years younger than Simon. Love and sex and attraction aren’t necessarily on the table yet – but their search for authenticity is very real. These kids are already grappling with huge questions about identity, even as their identities are very much in flux.

In many ways, this is a uniquely LGBTQ experience – but there are also threads of something so universal. Everyone changes. There are moments when we don’t recognize ourselves. There are moments when core aspects of our identities shift and expand.

It’s a strange feeling – and, though it never entirely goes away, it’s very much a teenage feeling. As adults, I think we sometimes forget how all-consuming and awkward and amazing that feeling can be.

To me, that’s Simon’s story. While Simoncan be described as a book about coming to terms with sexual identity, it’s really about that terrifying, thrilling process of figuring out who you are during a time when your entire identity – sexual, social, emotional, etc. – is a moving target. So much of being a teenager is this search for authenticity: trying on different identities, exploring new relationships and discovering how it all fits together.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a story about a sixteen-year-old boy getting to know himself – and I hope you love getting to know him, too.

Becky

#SimonVs #ComingOut

Tell us what you think!

@BeckyAlbertalli @WHSmith
@AntheaTownsend @FarrugiaSays


Interview with Becky Albertalli:

Hi Becky, can you tell us what it was that inspired you to write Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda?

There were many inspirations for Simon, some of which are drawn from my own experiences as a teenager. That being said, a major inspiration for me was my work with a support group for gender nonconforming kids in Washington, DC. The kids in this group were among the bravest, most hilarious, and most creative human beings I’ve ever met, and I’m lucky to know them. Simon’s a little older than the kids in my group, and he’s not modelled after anyone in particular. That being said, he faces some similar stressors; for example, bullying, microaggressions, and pressure to keep aspect of his identity under wraps. But, like the kids in my group (and other queer kids I’ve worked with), Simon finds a way to push through these challenges and remain true to himself. I will never stop being amazed by that particular brand of courage.

Is the character of Simon based on any one in particular?

Simon isn’t particularly based on anyone. I will say there’s a lot of me in him: among other things, we share a birthday, an intense love of Harry Potter, and a very strong desire to be funny and well-liked. Also, the Oreo obsession is straight-up autobiographical. Other than that, I’m sure I pulled little quirks and characteristics from many of my nearest and dearest, probably more than I even realize. Other than me, Simon is probably most similar to my husband and my little sister.

Music is a key theme within the book – what sort of music did you enjoy and listen to when you were a teenager?

When it comes to music, Simon is infinitely cooler than teenage Becky. I didn’t discover Elliott Smith until I was in my early twenties, and most of Simon’s other favorite bands are semi-recent discoveries. When I was Simon’s age (think 1999-2000), I was probably listening to Ben Folds, Dave Matthews, Lisa Loeb, and Cake. I also had a lot (A LOT) of Broadway musicals memorized.

There are lots of seasonal moments in the novel – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas – what effect do you think these moments have on Simon and Blue’s relationship?

Interesting question! I actually think the heart of the book is Simon’s attempt to integrate his childhood self with his current feelings and experiences. Holidays stir up a lot of nostalgia for Simon. He’s very attached to his family traditions, but he’s beginning to experience this desire for new experiences. I think Simon and Blue process some of these contradictory feelings in their emails, and that’s a part of the foundation for their connection to each other.

How do you think the coming out process has changed over the last 30 years and what impact do you think social media has had on this?

I don’t think it’s possible to generalize about the coming out process – it varies so much depending on the person and the environment. That being said, I do think social media has had a huge impact on many queer teens’ experiences. The internet offers so many opportunities to connect with others across the world. LGBTQIA+ teens don’t always have a lot of control over their environments, so I truly believe that the ability to form these online friendships and communities can be life-saving. Even more broadly, I think social media gives teenagers a space to reflect on issues like sexual orientation and gender identity. Social media pulls for us to put our identities on display: our preferences, our opinions, our senses of humor, and even our routines. Becoming comfortable with one’s sexual identity is a part of that process.

There is a very powerful and memorable quote in the book – “straight people should have to come out too”. What inspired this?

As a straight author attempting to inhabit the mind of a gay teenage boy, this line shook me even as I was writing it. One of the recurring themes in Simon VS the Homo Sapien Agenda is the importance of challenging the idea of a “default” experience. There’s this tendency to consider white, straight, cisgender, non-disabled people as default human beings; only people who don’t fit this mold are required to consider questions of identity. Sexual identity, in particular, is invisible – it’s not something you know just from looking at a person, which makes it so easy for that problematic default to rear its head. We assume straight until proven otherwise. For me, this line captures Simon and Blue’s shared wish for there to be no default when it comes to matters of identity.

Which other YA authors or books do you admire?

I have so many favorites – this isn’t even going to crack the surface. I’m a huge fan of Andrew Smith, who truly seems to be a force of nature. He just releases one masterpiece after another. I’m also late to this party, but I recently discovered the magic of Jandy Nelson. I’ll Give You The Sun‘ was my favorite book of 2014. I’ve also been a major fan of Jaclyn Moriarty for years. I’ve read everything she’s written, and she’s probably the reason I ended up writing YA. There are also a few titles coming out in 2015 that I’m completely in love with (I definitely recommend keeping an eye out for David Arnold’s Mosquitoland, Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not, and Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes).

Simon is very much a novel about identity and discovering who you are – do you think this is a uniquely teenage experience?

I think questions of identity really explode in the teenage years, and there’s something uniquely teenage about how central these issues become. That being said, we spend our whole lives working toward understanding ourselves more deeply. Actually, the process of writing Simon taught me so much about myself. I love that the self-discovery process never really ends.