Review: Imogen, Obviously by Becky Albertalli

Under what terms and conditions should people be allowed to come out? Is it fair that some people have an easier time than others? Those are the questions at the heart of Imogen, Obviously the latest novel from bestselling American author Becky Albertalli. 

Imogen is at her heart, a people pleaser. But is that the reason why, after her sister and best friend come out, she decides to up her ally game, joining her high school's LGBTQI+ club and becoming a bit part of the group? There, she makes friends with Gretchen, whose own coming out has been traumatic and eventually led her to changing schools. And when she discovers on a visit that her best friend Lili, who came out shortly before leaving for college, has lied to her new friends, not only claiming that she came out in high school but that Imogen is her ex-girlfriend, Imogen goes along with it. Then, just to complicate matters even more, Imogen finds herself falling for Tessa, a girl from Lili's college and she starts wondering is she really was heterosexual after all ...

While this novel remains light and loveable, it most definitely is not up there with some of the author's early novels. Rather than being a sweet coming out story like Simon Vs the Homo Sapien Agenda, or a novel about what it means to stand up for yourself and date who you want like The Upside of Unrequited, this feels more like a critique of queer spaces. Gretchen and the lack of acceptance that she directs toward Imogen feels very infuriating and one-dimensional, and the character is given little room to grow. The plot itself is fairly convoluted--it is difficult to believe that Imogen is that much of a people pleaser and that by the age of eighteen she has not learned to tell people to fuck off occasionally. Or that Imogen would assume that Gretchen was correct at all times, when she was surrounded by so many other supportive people.

I suspect that much of this novel was influenced by the author's own heartbreaking experiences of being forced to publicly come out before she was ready and not on her own terms and the discourse that surrounded those events. I can understand the impulse to write about it, however, I feel that she would have been better off developing this as a multi-character story that looked at the vastly different lives and experiences of LGBTQI+ teens in 21st century America.


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