While many might not immediately think of Becky Albertalli’s books as “Jewish books,” they most definitely are. Her writing reflects the experiences of so many Jewish teens; being Jewish is just part of who they are. She mentions her characters’ holiday dinners, bar mitzvahs, and the Magen Davids they wear. It’s not the main storyline, but it’s there, casually and unapologetically.
Her latest book centers around Imogen, a senior in high school. She is a fantabulous ally to her sister, who has come out, and her best friends, who are also queer — but she herself is one hundred percent straight. One of her so-called best friends will always remind her of that fact and educate her if she forgets.
When she goes to visit her newly out best friend Lili at college, Lili admits that she’s told her friends that they used to date but decided to be friends instead. None of them knows Imogen’s straight — and that includes Tessa. Tessa, who wears a Magen David, has freckles dusting her face, and makes Imogen suddenly forget how to breathe. The more time Imogen spends with Lili and her new friends, the more she wonders if she’s who always thought she was — or perhaps it’s been there all along.
When she takes a risk and kisses Tessa, and soon after comes out as bisexual, most of her friends are thrilled for her — but not everyone. Is she really bi? Or is she just “appropriating queerness,” as her friend Gretchen thinks she is, to fit in? When you feel one thing, but some of the messages you’re getting from the community make you doubt yourself and your own identity, which is “right,” and who gets the final say?
Albertalli has written a thought-provoking book about the dangers of policing identity, even in the name of social justice. “Who gets let in?” she writes. “Who gets shoved out? And what do you do with the fact that no two people seem to do queerness in quite the same way? Maybe shared experiences shouldn’t be the foundation at all. Maybe it should be a promise to hold space for variation.” But this is also a story about freeing yourself from expectations and figuring out who you are, about growing up and falling in love, and about discovering who your friends really are.
Jaime Herndon is a medical writer who also writes about parenting and pop culture in her spare time. Her writing can be seen on Kveller, Undark, Book Riot, and more. When she’s not working or homeschooling, she’s at work on an essay collection.