Review: Imogen, Obviously by Becky Albertalli

  • Title: Imogen, Obviously
  • Author: Becky Albertalli
  • Genre: contemporary coming-of-age
  • Intended audience: young adult
  • Format read: eARC
  • Publisher: HarperTeen/Balzer + Bray
  • Pub date: May 2, 2023
  • Content warnings: depictions of queerphobia
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Imogen Scott may be hopelessly heterosexual, but she’s got the World’s Greatest Ally title locked down. She’s never missed a Pride Alliance meeting. She knows more about queer media discourse than her very queer little sister. She even has two queer best friends. There’s Gretchen, a fellow high school senior, who helps keep Imogen’s biases in check. And then there’s Lili—newly out and newly thriving with a cool new squad of queer college friends.

Imogen’s thrilled for Lili. Any ally would be. And now that she’s finally visiting Lili on campus, she’s bringing her ally A game. Any support Lili needs, Imogen’s all in. Even if that means bending the truth, just a little. Like when Lili drops a tiny queer bombshell: she’s told all her college friends that Imogen and Lili used to date. And none of them know that Imogen is a raging hetero—not even Lili’s best friend, Tessa. Of course, the more time Imogen spends with chaotic, freckle-faced Tessa, the more she starts to wonder if her truth was ever all that straight to begin with. . .

🕮 | StoryGraph | Goodreads 🕮

An image of blue flowers on a white background.

Becky Albertalli came out as bisexual in August 2020. Known for writing queer young adult novels, she 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 Medium post where she came out, 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 bi, 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.

It feels bigger than I want it to be. Do I really have to announce this? Can’t I just feel something and live inside it while it’s happening and not analyze it to death?

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.

The conversations in Imogen, Obviously are deeply entrenched in debates and discourse around queerness. Imogen internally worries she might be faking it for attention, or talking herself into it because she is a people-pleaser. She is constantly concerned she is queerbaiting or appropriating queer culture. Gretchen actively pushes back when Imogen attempts to discuss her sexuality with her, because Imogen doesn’t fit her idea of what a queer person is. Albertalli deftly illustrates how Gretchen’s experience with homophobia and bullying have led her to that point, without dismissing the real harm she inflicts. Meanwhile, Lili reveals she feels guilty for not coming out in high school, because she could have been a role model “for some little Brazilian pansexual kid.”

It’s like there’s this idea that you have to earn your label through suffering. And then you have to prove it with who you date, how you dress, how other people perceive you.

These scenarios show how seemingly abstract online debates can have real impacts on young queer people. And while different characters all have different worries, the novel’s stance is clear: there is no one way to be queer, real people can’t queerbait, no one is required to come out, and policing identity is the exact opposite of what queerness embodies. Admittedly, such conversations may not be compelling for people outside the queer community. Those not inoculated with queer online discourse might feel bogged down in unfamiliar language and talking points. However, Albertalli has a clear and nuanced message that, given the state of online discourse, needs to be heard.

And importantly, such discussions will resonate with the target audience. 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.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this review, you may also like:
Review: I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
Review: If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich
My Favorite Bisexual Books

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