Known for writing queer young adult novels, Becky Albertalli faced years of criticism for doing so as a cishet woman; especially after her 2015 bestseller “Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda” became the 2018 hit movie “Love, Simon.” But privately, she reveals in the 2020 Medium post where she came out as bisexual, she was having a sexual identity crisis. She explains, “there didn’t seem to be a word for girls who basically liked guys, but were sometimes (randomly!) fascinated by girls.” Now, Albertalli is back with “Imogen, Obviously,” a deeply personal book about a teenage girl discovering her bisexual identity.
Imogen, obviously the main character of “Imogen, Obviously,” has been surrounded by queerness as long as she can remember. Her little sister, Edith, was lesbian Elsa for Halloween at age seven. Her best friend Gretchen is bisexual, and she’s never missed a Pride Alliance meeting. She owns three copies of “One Last Stop,” and her favorite movie is “But I’m a Cheerleader.” But Imogen is, in her own words, “hopelessly, blindingly, obviously straight.”
What Imogen definitely is is a senior in high school, set to attend Blackwell College next year, where her other best friend Lili is a current freshman. When Imogen arrives on campus for a spring visit weekend, she learns that, in an attempt to be cool, Lili misled her queer friend group to believe she and Imogen are exes. And that Imogen is bi. But the chance to live without everyone else’s preconceived notions of her as straight allows Imogen to see herself in a different light as well. That — and one really cute girl.
In the months leading up to Albertalli’s “Medium” post, I was having a sexual identity crisis of my own. Much like Imogen, entrance into the college atmosphere (a new and very queer environment) allowed me freedom to explore my identity. Reading “Imogen, Obviously” was like seeing a version of my younger self. Like Imogen, I was surrounded by queer friends and loved queer media, so I assumed that if I was queer I would just know. I failed to recognize the obvious reason I was drawn to queer people and stories. It is a beautiful fact that there is no one way to be bisexual, but if you don’t like iced coffee and wear cuffed jeans, how do you know? In the words of Imogen, “how weirdly does a person have to sit to count as bisexual?” “Imogen, Obviously” is exactly the book I needed during my own questioning process.
While Imogen is introspective and the novel contains many important discussions of queer identity, it is also ridiculously fun. The college setting allows for the exact things that a real college space does: serious questions simultaneously mixed with silliness and shenanigans. Imogen’s love interest is Tessa, a Jewish lesbian whom Imogen declares she would be “losing her mind over if [she] was queer.” Imogen’s and Tessa’s text chains are fun and flirty, allowing for a romance based on real connection. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Albertalli book without a vibrant cast of supporting characters. At Blackwell, Lili and Tessa are part of a diverse friend group which also includes Mika, the nonbinary TikTok sensation, and Kayla and Declan, who are privately waging their own prank war against each other involving tiny German sausages. They go to parties and have brunch in the dining hall and sit on the floors of each others’ dorm rooms late at night. Their genuine friendships make Imogen, and the reader, feel a part of their group.
Ultimately, Albertalli is writing for young queer and questioning people who are waiting to be seen, to great success. In her letter to the reader preceding the book, she states “If Simon was me throwing a ball into the air, Imogen is my attempt to catch it. I hope she lands with you, too.” She landed with me, and I believe she is going to land directly into the hearts of the exact people who need it most. Funny, sincere, and heartfelt, “Imogen, Obviously” is a welcome addition to the young adult literary canon.
“Imogen, Obviously” is available May 2, 2023 from Balzer+Bray. I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.