Imo­gen, Obviously

  • Review
By – June 28, 2023

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.

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