Becky Albertalli is the author of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Albertalli has been writing throughout her life but this is her first novel. She has earned her doctorate in clinical psychology and was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently living in Roswell, Georgia with her husband and two sons, and enjoys spending her time writing young adult fiction.
The Fountain: You have earned a doctorate in clinical psychology. Did this have any influence in your process of writing a young adult novel?
Becky Albertalli: It’s funny – I’m sure it had a huge influence, but it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly how it shaped my writing. So much of what I learned in my psych training has become second nature for me, so I never felt like I was directly drawing upon my training while writing the book. In many ways, it actually complicated my process, because I have to be very careful not to use confidential information in my writing!
Fountain: In the novel, Simon faces the dilemma of coming out as gay to his high school peers and family. In what ways does your story encourage self-acceptance and banish stereotypes towards LGBT youths?
Albertalli: I do hope my story encourages self-acceptance and banishes stereotypes! I honestly think the most powerful way to accomplish this is by creating a character who feels human, and that’s what I tried to do with Simon. He’s just this goofy, snarky, Oreo-obsessed kid, and his sexual orientation is one of many important parts of his identity. I think the best learning moments happen when people connect with Simon.
Fountain: My favorite aspect of this novel is Simon’s quick wit and sarcastic remarks. How did you find his voice? Was it difficult conveying the attitude of a 16-year-old boy?
Albertalli: Simon’s voice actually came really naturally to me! It almost feels like he wrote himself. I never consciously changed my approach to make the voice sound more like a boy – I just tried to capture Simon. He reads a little like my high school journals, though he’s funnier and more charming, and I think I was more self-aware.
Fountain: Why did you decide to take a humorous approach to a story that covers topics like blackmailing and hidden romance?
Albertalli: That’s a great question! It’s hard to remember a moment where I made that decision – it just seemed so natural for this story. Simon is a funny kid, and I think teenagers are so amazing and hilarious in general. I think real life is such a mess of humor and heartache, and I did my best to capture that.
Fountain: What character in the novel do you identify the closest with?
Albertalli: I definitely identify a lot with Simon, and many of his thoughts and experiences are based on my own. Other than that, I identify closely with his older sister, Alice, who comes home for visits from Wesleyan University (my alma mater) and is sort of the voice of social justice in this book. And I identify a lot with Simon’s friend Leah, who has been sort of a polarizing figure among readers. She’s sensitive, caring, jealous, a little insecure, and very moody. I was a lot like that as a teen.
Fountain: Are any of the events in the novel based on personal experience?
Albertalli: Some of them are! I was very involved in theater when I was in high school, so those memories feature prominently. The school in the book is a thinly veiled version of my high school, and some of the details are totally the same (the couch in the English classroom, the chorus/choir room, the layout of the school, etc.). Also, though I’ve never fallen in love online, I’ve had close friendships that developed over email!
Fountain: What do you hope your readers will take away or learn from this story?
Albertalli: I used to have so many idea of what I wanted this story to accomplish, but now that it’s out there, I really do want readers to form their own interpretations. The way we read and interpret stories is so heavily influenced by our own backgrounds and experiences – and I think that’s a good thing.