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Becky Albertalli On French Toast And Being A Late-Bloomer


The following conversation is part of our Beyond The Bio series, featuring conversations with authors we love. Today's guests include StoryTimeTeen creator James Tilton and bestselling author Becky Albertalli. Becky's newest book, Imogen, Obviously, came out last month.


 

James: Hi Becky! I’m so excited to welcome you back to StoryTimeTeen! You’ve got a new book out called Imogen, Obviously. It’s this adorably heartfelt romantic comedy that is the perfect summer read. Can you tell our readers what it’s about?


Becky: I’m so thrilled to be back—and thank you!! Imogen, Obviously is about a high school senior who sees herself as the token straight ally in her mostly queer group of friends. But when she visits her best friend Lili at college, Imogen learns that Lili (in a fit of imposter syndrome) told all of her new college friends that Lili and Imogen used to date—and now all of Lili’s friends think Imogen is bi. Imogen, always the people pleaser, goes along with the lie—but meeting Lili’s best college friend, Tessa, makes her wonder if it was ever a lie to begin with.


James: Imogen’s favorite adverb is “obviously,” obviously. Mine’s “totally.” What’s yours?


Becky: I’m a late-bloomer at heart, so I think mine is “eventually.”


James: Alright, my heart just about burst at the scene where Imogen and Tessa are hiding out together in a (quite literal) closet. It was so cute! What scene in Imogen, Obviously still gives you the flutters?


Becky: Oh, that makes me so happy! I think the part that still gets me is the walk back from Halloween party, when Imogen has cold hands.


James: Alright, let’s talk movies. Imogen has a single favorite films, but Tessa’s favorites are full-on grocery-list status. Who are you more like? Do you have one single favorite or a whole list of them?


Becky: Oh, I’m one hundred percent Tessa when it comes to favorites—I’m notoriously terrible at narrowing down my list.


James: The scene during trivia where Imogen shows off her Waldo skills? Adorable! But I’ve got to know… are you a Waldo queen as well? Or do you have some other hidden skill we should all know about?


Becky: I’m actually not! I’m average at best. Both of my kids are really good at it, though, so maybe I carry the recessive Waldo gene? I would say my best hidden skill is that I can touch my tongue to my nose. I also make really good French toast!


James: Um, yum! OK, I’m going to dork out for a bit here, but you’ve done this really amazing thing where all your books link together through shared characters. This goes all the way back to your first book, Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Becky stans like myself call this the Simonverse, and the connections aren’t always easy to spot. Am I correct in thinking that someone’s younger sister made a brief appearance in Imogen, Obviously? Are there any other Simonverse Easter eggs readers should keep an eye out for?


Becky: You are correct!! I think that’s the only official Simonverse easter egg in Imogen, but I would say that the book in general is very much in conversation with Simon Vs. I especially liked having the chance to revisit and recontextualize the “why is straight the default” question. It’s probably the most well-known line of Simon, but I let my characters unpack it a little in Imogen. The call for straight people to have to come out was always tongue-in-cheek, but I take it a little more seriously now. I feel strongly that no one should be expected to come out—because, for one thing, we don’t always know who’s straight.

Becky Albertalli (credit: Heather Murphy)

James: That brings me to my next question actually. Back in 2020, you wrote an open letter on Medium that brought me to tears. In it, you spoke about your own journey. You started your publishing career identifying as a straight ally before slowly realizing that you were actually bisexual all along. It’s a similar process for Imogen in many ways. What parallels do you see between her story and your own?


Becky: There are definitely lots of parallels to our processes—even though the book’s plot is completely fictional, Imogen’s emotional journey tracks really closely to mine. Like Imogen, I’d internalized discourse that cautioned me strongly against appropriating queerness and invading queer spaces—which made my own questioning process feel like I was overstepping. And it became more complicated when, like with Imogen, that framing was reinforced by messaging from other people. But once things finally clicked into place, it seemed really obvious in retrospect. I’d been missing the clues for years, just like Imogen did.


James: Ironically, one of Imogen’s biggest obstacles during this whole experience is her friend Gretchen, who is also queer. Gretchen’s experience with past hate has caused her to become self-protective in a way that can be very controlling. It’s almost like she’s the self-appointed gatekeeper of all things queer. What would you say to all the Gretchens out there, both in real life and online, who are using their own queer identity as a license to police the queerness of others?


Becky: I’ve thought about this a lot over the years! It’s really, really hard to know what to say to the Gretchens of the world, because their worldview rests on an entirely different foundation. It’s a bit of a catch-22—if they doubt or question my queerness, they aren’t going to take my input seriously in discussions of queer identity.


James: It’s been fantastic chatting, Becky, but we do eventually have to let you go so you can write another book. Let’s end today’s interview with a fun question. Your story is largely set in Penn Yan, a village in upstate New York that’s famous for making the world’s largest pancake. It was 27 feet across! Meanwhile, I’m conducting this interview from Lancaster, a town in California that’s famous for breaking the record for the world’s largest omelet back in 2002. It contained 34,000 eggs! If you had the chance to help make one oversized breakfast food, what would it be?


Becky: Oh, it would definitely be French toast!!


James: Thanks so much for joining us today, Becky! I hear you've got some photos for us before you go. They're from your own trip to Penn Yan, and they feature some of the locations from the book! Let's check them out.


Seneca Farms, which Imogen claims has the best ice cream in the world

The griddle where Imogen and Tessa kiss!!!

We love you, Becky! Come back again soon!



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