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North Melbourne Books Talks to Becky Albertalli
North Melbourne Books: Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda examines very traumatic territory for young gay people: when and how to come out to friends and family. How much of your work as a clinical psychologist helped you to tell this story?
Becky Albertalli: Coming out is an incredibly important moment for young gay people, and while it’s sometimes traumatic, I do think it has the potential to be a joyful moment. I think one of the most valuable things I’ve learned as a psychologist is that each person’s story is unique. In general, though, I’m actually extremely careful to avoid using moments from my psychology work in my writing. My priority is to prevent my former clients from feeling vulnerable – so, in that way, my work as a psychologist required me to take extra care when telling this story.
NMB: One of the themes of the novel is how straight people don’t need to make a declaration of their sexuality and that maybe they should have to come out too. This is a very perceptive thought! Is this an idea that came to you as you were writing the novel or have you always thought so?
BA: Thank you so much! I think some version of this thought must have been percolating, but honestly, it feels like something I learned from Simon! It was definitely one of those ideas I kept coming back to as I was writing – Simon’s narration kept leading me there.
NMB: Is there a message you’d like to get across in Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda?
BA: That’s a complicated question. I think there are certain messages and themes that I pull from the book when I read it, but it’s important to me not to prescribe that for the reader. I think readers’ interpretations of the book will absolutely be informed by their own backgrounds and experiences, and I love that.
NMB: How has the novel been received by readers so far?
BA: I’ve been really thrilled with the response so far! I’ve gotten some of the most beautiful emails and messages from readers saying it resonated with their experiences, and that’s really special to me – especially when I hear it from gay teenagers. I just feel so privileged to be a part of this conversation.
NMB: What books are you enjoying reading at the moment?
BA: Right now, I’m reading Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz, and it is absolutely incredible. It’s about a very charming bisexual ballerina named Etta, and her voice is so vivid, hilarious, and real.
(Author photo courtesy of Decisive Moment Events)