If your teen loves:
Having crushes (and gossiping with friends about them)
The movie ‘Tangled’
And super close friendships with great representation
Then Becky Albertalli’s new book Kate in Waiting could be their new favourite high school romance read! Think To All the Boys I Loved Before meets Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, but dorkier, with more high school drama and innocent, cute, crush energy.
‘Contrary to popular belief, best friends Kate Garfield and Anderson Walker are not codependent. Carpooling to and from theater rehearsals? Environmentally sound and efficient. Consulting each other on every single life decision? Basic good judgment. Pining for the same guys from afar? Shared crushes are more fun anyway.
But when Kate and Andy’s latest long-distance crush shows up at their school, everything goes off script. Matt Olsson is talented and sweet, and Kate likes him. She really likes him. The only problem? So does Anderson.
Turns out, communal crushes aren’t so fun when real feelings are involved. This one might even bring the curtains down on Kate and Anderson’s friendship.’
As the tension unfolds throughout weeks of rehearsals for the school musical, we get a close up look of friendship and the complications that can come with it. And while this book is about having crushes, finding yourself and redefining what romance means, it also looks deeply into the complexities of close friendship and how rivalry and friendship are closer companions that you’d think.
This is Albertalli’s first solo book that isn’t part of the ‘Simon-verse’ (She also wrote Simon VS the Homosapiens Agenda, Leah on the Offbeat and The Upside of Unrequited) and she knocks it out of the park. With so many young adult novels often talking down to their readers, Albertalli is a breath of fresh air, as she actually understands the complex social codes and hierarchy that dominates teenage social lives. We caught up with Becky to discuss Kate in Waiting and to get all the details on this gorgeous new release!
She discussed how she gets into a teenage characters head in a way that is relatable, rather than looking like that Steve Buscemi meme, that’s like ‘Hello, fellow kids!’
‘I have actually gotten more than my fair share of that gif on GoodReads’ She laughed when I brought it up. ‘So it’s just shows that it’s going to land right with some people and not with other people, which is fine. I think for me, one of the things that’s been consistent since the beginning in terms of getting into a character’s head, is that it’s not ever been about me trying to ‘teen-down’ my voice or anything. I’m not ever trying to sound younger. I’m trying to sound like a particular character. Which obviously, is hard. It makes the beginning of the drafting process really hard because you don’t know that person yet.’
She spoke about how fast book trends and social trends move, so writing young adult fiction is more about capturing the feeling of being a teenager, rather than trying to mimic trends currently popular with young people. ‘I think I would be useless if I went into it trying to sound like a teen, because not only am I not one, but also just with the time lag of publishing, it’s just like, I could write whole book about TikTok right now – I don’t know what TikTok is going to be like in two years! Also, I absolutely could not write a book about TikTok right now, that would be a disaster – I would get the Steve Buscemi gif, like, everywhere! It’s a bit of a moving target I guess.’
What really stands out in Kate in Waiting is what Becky calls ‘crush energy’. I actually felt like I had a crush too, the entire time I was reading! It leaves you with that jittery, hyped up kind of feeling of liking someone so much you feel like you could burst when you see them. I asked Becky how she created that energy and how it felt to write those scenes and her face lit up.
‘It’s definitely one of my favourite things to write! I love writing crush energy and pining. I have a lot experience crushing,’ Becky laughed at herself. ‘I definitely did a lot of it in my day. When trying to capture that with writing, I find there’s a lot of overlap between the people who write towards that and who are always trying to stuff as much of that [energy] into every book and are people who have fanfiction backgrounds! I would say that’s my fanfiction lineage showing. Which is something I’m really proud of.’
We spoke about how one of her first books, ‘Simon VS the Homosapiens Agenda’ later became the movie ‘Love, Simon’, and whether she hoped the same thing would happen with Kate in Waiting. The characters in this book are so vivid, but she explained why she doesn’t share her dream cast for any potential movies anymore.
‘This is the one I vowed never again to directly answer, because with Simon, I used to answer that question all the time, because it was like…. ‘Well this will never happen!’ And then it did happen.’ She shrugged. ‘And then it’s suddenly complicated. So, just to avoid that…there’s so much awkwardness in my life anyway,’ She laughed. ‘I figured this might be one that I could avoid.’
The conversation took a more serious turn when we spoke about the importance of representation to Becky when writing a book. She’s been known to explore a wide range of sexualities and mental health issues in her books, and Kate in Waiting is no different. Anderson, Kate’s best friend, is gay, Kate’s friend group includes a trans girl and another character experiences mental health problems with social anxiety. Kate herself is an incredibly anxious mind to spend time in too. I asked Becky about why perspective and voice is important when it comes to writing representation in books.
‘Own Voices at a systemic level, is absolutely critical, that is something we should be intentional about and very mindful of,’ Becky was hesitant with this question, bringing up the #OwnVoices movement, which was coined by the writer Corinne Duyvis and is meant to define marginalized characters written by marginalized writers.
‘We should always be aware that it functions differently for different types of identities. When you get some of the ones where things get a little bit tricky, like invisible identities; queerness, disability and mental health – or that can be invisible - and things like that, for me, it always comes back to pulling back from using those terms to regulate individual authors… because there is sometimes more information that is not public and shouldn’t have to be public. But, I think it is really good to be intentional in seeking out representation from authors who are openly Own Voices, whatever identity that is. So you can curate your personal reading around that and I think that’s wonderful, I always thought that was wonderful.’
And Becky picked a particularly good medium for representation. Musical theatre and the big high school show is at the centre of this story. Theatre nerds, rejoice! This book was made for you! The excitement and anticipation in Becky’s writing was so true to the real experience of being in a show that I knew she had to have a musical theatre background.
‘I do, in high school theatre! I was very much a theatre kid in high school, I could not miss a single play – unless I didn’t get in! I was in the background of every musical, and I just love the entire world of being part of a production; The Saturday rehearsal, set design, getting backstage…all that, I just remember it so vividly. And that was the most important part of my day every day in high school.’
One of my favourite scenes in the whole book, is when Kate is watching ‘Tangled’ – both Kate’s and my favourite Disney movie – and Kate is just so entranced by that scene where Flynn rows Rapunzel out into the lake to see the lanterns that she’s been obsessed with since childhood. It’s just a really soft, lovely scene, because you can see how much Kate loves this moment. But what’s funny is that Kate is so all about romance and imagining her and her crushes in romantic situations – but her favourite moment isn’t the romantic one with Flynn and Rapunzel – it’s about Rapunzel realizing who she is and achieving her dreams, which I thought was really representative of the journey that Kate’s character undergoes.
‘That scene has always caught me.’ Becky shared. ‘I just love that movie, that’s my favourite scene in it. And Kate is very anxious interpersonally, I would say. There’s this layer to every interaction where she is just analysing it. So I think there’s something about Rapunzel just really losing herself to that moment - because Kate only gets that when she’s singing on stage, or playing her guitar. Her brain is not quiet like that normally.’
It’s my favorite part of the movie, the part I most know by heart. It’s almost unbearably romantic—and I don’t even mean the hand-holding part or the almost-kiss or the massive amounts of mutual eyegasming. It’s before that. It’s the part when Rapunzel catches that first glimpse of a lantern, and that’s it. She’s totally lost. She almost knocks the boat over, scrambling to get a better viewpoint. And for the entire first verse of the song, the screen doesn’t even cut to Flynn Rider, because she’s completely forgotten about him. It’s just Rapunzel and the lanterns. She’s standing there, clutching the prow of the boat, and at one point, she does this exhale. Like the world’s so beautiful, she can’t take it.
And then she suddenly remembers Flynn, who’s been quietly watching her the whole time. Holding back, not intruding. He’s just there for her when she’s ready. Anderson thinks it’s hilarious that my number one romantic fantasy involves me forgetting the boy exists, but to me, it just shows how safe Rapunzel feels with Flynn. Her brain doesn’t even have to remember he’s there, because some bone-deep part of her knows it. And there’s that beautifully obvious contradiction. The way being wrapped up in someone can make you more free. The wide-open safety of home.’ – Kate in Waiting
If you want more Kate, musical theatre nerding-out and Tangled fangirling, check out Kate in Waiting, available to buy here!