ROSWELL, Ga. — The young adult fiction genre has seen a shift in recent years.
New York Times bestselling author Becky Albertalli met with dozens of fans Oct. 5 at the Roswell Cultural Arts center to talk about some of those changes and her own works in the genre.
Albertalli, a local resident, is best known for her debut young adult novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” which was adapted into the 2018 film “Love, Simon.”
Before becoming an author, however, Albertalli was first a clinical psychologist, and that experience, she said, has informed her novels.
“I thought it was going to be my job forever,” she said. “And then I was moving, and then I couldn’t get another job in D.C., where I was living. So, I decided to try writing a book, and that was ‘Simon.’ It hasn’t stopped since then.”
Albertalli said she has kept everything even remotely confidential from her time as a psychologist separate from her writing.
Albertalli joined the writing scene a year after the “We Need Diverse Books” movement began on Twitter by Ellen Oh and other authors to celebrate characters and authors of diverse backgrounds. The movement, and later nonprofit organization, was created in response to the all-white, all-male panel of authors at the 2014 BookCon.
“It’s such an important conversation to have,” Albertalli said. “There has been a noticeable and striking change in the industry… I can’t even imagine how ‘Simon’ could have landed without We Need Diverse Books. I don’t know if so many of my favorite books would have existed without We Need Diverse Books.”
Albertalli’s books often feature a cast of diverse characters, including the titular Simon Spier, a gay, high school teenager, in “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.”
But, Albertalli said, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done regarding representation in young adult novels.
She added that it’s also important to know when to step aside and make space for authors from underrepresented communities to have their voices be heard.
“I get asked almost every day if I would write a sequel to ‘Simon’ from Blue’s point of view,” she said. “That would involve tapping into a specific intersectional, marginalized identity where very few authors from that community have written and have published books by mainstream publishers.”
Albertalli also spoke at length about her experience working with Hollywood when “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” was adapted into “Love, Simon.”
She said she was aware during the process that once the movie would come out, the movie and any of its changes from the original book would become the main point of access of the story for most people.
The ending of the movie, for example, is a much more public coming out story, and Albertalli said she wouldn’t change it.
“It was a really powerful, big moment,” she said. “It got a lot of its power from the fact that it was something that had been done so many times in romcoms… But you haven’t really seen that with two gay teen boys. So many other people have taken that moment for granted.”
The book’s ending, in contrast, is a more private moment that focuses more on the love story instead of the coming out story, Albertalli said.
Since it’s release in 2018, the movie has won several awards, including, most recently, a GLAAD Media Award for outstanding representation of the LGBT community.
The fame has been life-changing, Albertalli said.
“It’s very surreal,” she said. “It’s hard to explain what it’s like to go from a carpool mom to GLAAD Media Awards, watching Lizzo performing, trying to get a good picture of Lizzo and somebody’s blocking your picture, and you realize that somebody is Meghan Trainor.”
Disney+ is currently working on a “Love, Simon” spinoff that will follow a different character from the movie and book.
Albertalli most recently published “Yes No Maybe So,” in conjunction with Aisha Saeed, which is in part inspired by the 2017 Jon Ossoff campaign in Georgia’s 6th District. She is also working on a sixth, 2021 novel that will be based in Roswell and a fictional version of Roswell High School.