5ish Questions with Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed!

Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

[Note From Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview authors Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed and ask them five(ish) questions. Their novel Yes No Maybe So is out February 4th!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Becky: So much of this story was inspired by our own experiences. After the 2016 election in the US, we both felt this really heightened sense of urgency to be more politically active and engaged. We’d both always voted and supported candidates online, but neither of us had ever knocked on doors before. In 2017, we had the opportunity to do that for a local candidate we really believed in, and we found the experience to be so much more rewarding than we expected. So, Maya and Jamie’s introduction to activism draws really heavily from that feeling. I think we really wanted to find a way to share that joy in this narrative especially at a time when so many people are feeling hopeless.

Aisha: Becky and I are also both huge fans of romantic comedies, and Yes No Maybe So is a romantic comedy at its heart. Becky is Jewish and I am Muslim and it was such a wonderful process to write this cross-cultural love story between Jamie who is Jewish and Maya who is Muslim. 

What character do you most relate to and why?

Becky: I identify so much with Jamie, whose point of view I wrote in Yes No Maybe So. Jamie deals with social anxiety and can sometimes get stuck in his own head — speaking to strangers is way outside his comfort zone. So, it was really important to me to explore activism and political engagement from this perspective. There are so many ways to make a difference, even if the process feels like it’s made for a totally different personality type.

Aisha: I wrote Maya’s point of view in Yes No Maybe So. Like her, I am Pakistani American and I am Muslim. I’ve also faced bigotry like Maya. Nevertheless, like Maya, I too find ways to find joy despite the worry and the fear that is pervasive, particularly during our current election season.  Maya goes through a great deal in this book, but she also has joy and laughter through it all. 

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from the read.

Aisha: Yes No Maybe So is a rom-com about two teens, Maya and Jamie, who fall in love while canvassing for their local state special election.

Becky: It’s definitely a book about activism and political engagement, but at its core, it’s a love story. We hope readers love Maya and Jamie as much as we do.

How was it writing a book with another amazing YA author?

Aisha: Becky and I are close friends and it was great to get to tackle the blank page with her.  We got to obsess over this book together which was so fun. And the best part was knowing someone else was just as in love with the characters as you are. It was such a great experience!

Becky: I completely agree. I loved watching our ideas build off each other – it happened so organically, and we always ended up in a place that was so much richer than where either of us had started. And of course, working so closely together on this book has given us a really safe and productive space to process our reactions to the real-world events that inspired it. We always say this book was our life raft. I think some of that comes from how much we believe in this story, but some of that simply comes from being able to work on it together.

The book includes some cute pop culture references, politics and romance…how fun was it to mix these themes up? 

Becky: I think a lot of those choices were really organic for this story. It’s a love story taking place during a political campaign, so those elements were really baked into the narrative. But it was important to us that these threads both felt fully developed and real. And I’m forever a fan of pop culture references as a way of anchoring teen characters in a specific sociocultural context. I know that choice can be polarizing, but it felt especially right for this very of-the-moment story.

Aisha: Completely agree!

I loved all the cultural references! How does culture shape a character, especially in a YA novel?

Becky: It was really special for both of us to be able to lean into our own cultural and religious backgrounds when developing these characters. Jamie’s Jewish upbringing is the most similar to mine out of any character I’ve written – there’s even a scene in the book that takes place at my childhood synagogue. Writing religious characters is always interesting, because specific experiences within religious groups varies so dramatically. And these experiences can also change over time! The increased antisemitism we’ve seen in the last year or two have markedly changed the way I experience being Jewish, and Jamie’s grappling with the same shift.

Aisha: I love writing Pakistani characters as well as Muslim characters. There are over one billion Muslims around the world and it was important for me to share Maya’s specific story as a Muslim American teen but everyone’s faith is deeply personal and specific to them. While it was very meaningful to me to tell Maya’s story—her story is hers and hers alone and not something that can be translated to all lived Muslim experiences, even Muslim American ones.

What can fans expect from your live presentation at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida on February 6th?

Aisha: I’m so excited to hit the road and visit bookstores to chat about Yes No Maybe So with Becky! And I’m particularly excited to head to Coral Gables. I was born and raised in Miami and once upon a time I dreamed of being a writer, so returning to South Florida with a dream come true is amazing. And visiting Miami feels like returning home. I can’t wait to meet readers and chat with them soon!

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