Becky Albertalli is the winner of the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award, which was presented at the ALA Midwinter Youth Media Awards. A full announcement of all of the titles and authors honored at the 2016 YMA’s can be found here.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda follows the developing relationship between high school junior Simon and an anonymous boy he meets on his school’s Tumblr site “Creek Secrets.” Simon is not ready to come out to the rest of the school, but after forgetting to log out of his email, a classmate discovers his correspondence and begins blackmailing Simon in exchange for Simon’s attempts to persuade his best friend to go out with him. The heart of the story lies in Simon’s close friendships and the sweet, slowly developing relationship between Simon and the boy he knows only as “Blue.” Albertalli’s debut novel already has many devoted fans and, after her Morris Award win, is sure to gain more.
Congratulation on being selected as the 2016 Morris Award winner! Can you give us an idea of what was going through your head when you won?
Thank you so much! I’m ridiculously honored, and I can’t explain how much this means to me. I don’t know if it’s even sunk in yet that my book won this award! I found out via a phone call from the committee, and I didn’t see it coming AT ALL. Even after I was named a finalist for the Morris, I still didn’t think winning was in the realm of possibility. I’ve always viewed my book as a romantic comedy. I have a lot of feelings about how rarely romantic comedies are recognized as having literary merit, and I actually feel strongly that rom coms deserve award consideration. That said, I didn’t think MY rom com would be considered for a national award. I’m stunned and humbled and so, so grateful. To be honest, I was floored to be named a finalist alongside Anna-Marie McLemore, Kelly Loy Gilbert, Stephanie Oakes, and Leah Thomas. Their books blew my mind. I can’t even describe what it feels like to be honored next to them.
Social media plays a huge role in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Simon and “Blue” meet through Tumblr and fall in love through emails. What was your reasoning behind having their relationship develop this way, and how do you think the story would be different if they had met “IRL”?
I love this question. Technology is a huge part of Simon’s story, and I truly believe this reflects the way many modern teens form the connections that matter most to them. There’s something almost magical about the way the internet shapes relationships. It allows us to get to know people, as Simon says, “from the inside out.” I think that possibility is meaningful for all of us – but for LGBTQIAP+ kids, it can be lifesaving. For Simon and Blue, who live in a conservative southern suburb, the internet is one of the only ways to connect with other gay teens. It allows them to find each other safely and anonymously, and it provides a space to discuss sexual identity before they’re actually out to friends and family. I can’t imagine this particular story even happening if they had first gotten to know each other “IRL.” Simon and Blue actually do know each other IRL in this story – but it’s hard to imagine them finding that intimacy and comfort with each other based on that relationship (I don’t THINK that’s a spoiler).
For what it’s worth, though, I think internet friendships and relationships do count as real life. Often, they’re even realer than what we think of as “real life.”