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Monday, May 17, 2021

'Kate in Waiting' by Becky Albertalli


From the BLURB: 

Contrary to popular belief, best friends Kate and Anderson are not codependent. Carpooling to and from theatre 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 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.

‘Kate in Waiting’ is the new stand-alone novel from American YA author, Becky Albertalli. 

This is actually Becky’s first stand-alone novel not connected to the ‘Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ or ‘Simonverse,’ and not a co-written YA novel like she’s most recently done with Adam Silvera and Aisha Saeed. Truth be told, I really had to cast my mind back to the last Becky books I read because, eh, I was pretty lukewarm on ‘The Upside of Unrequited’ (truly, I can barely even remember the storyline now) and the last time I dipped my toes into the Simonverse was ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ that for whatever reason, failed to spark joy for me. 

I am happy to report that I’ve had a very different reading-experience with ‘Kate in Waiting’ which I found to be a joyous and cathartic, theatre-kid *squee* and hug of a YA novel.

It tells the story of best friends Kate and Anderson who’ve just come back from theatre-camp (summer-camp, I assume) where they each developed a major crush on a lovely Georgia local boy, Matt who was a vocal coach and a year older than them. This is actually pretty standard for besties Kate and Anderson to crush on the same boy – Kate internally even muses that a crush isn’t fun if she and ‘Andy’ aren’t into the same one. Their other best friends Brandie and Raina think this codependent-crush situation is unhealthy, and they may even be proven right when *the* Matt Olsson of their summertime crush is the new kid in town, whose mother also happens to be long-lost best friends with Kate’s Mum … 

Throw into the mix an upcoming school musical of Once Upon a Mattress that every theatre-kid is vying for a part in, and you have a jam-packed year for protagonist Kate. She and Anderson agree to set parameters to their crushing, since it’s now being played out in real-time in a way they’ve never experienced before when Matt joins their friendship group. Kate’s also adjusting to the idea of life next year without her big-brother Ryan around, who’ll be off to college. And she’s got lapsed childhood friend and ‘F-Boy’ (jock, semi-slutty dudebro) Noah Kaplan inexplicably in drama class with Anderson and Matt, and trying out for the school musical who is convincing Kate to help him get stage-ready. 

I was about 10 or 15 pages into ‘Kate in Waiting’ when Becky was setting the stage and for a brief moment I thought; “Oh, no.” There were just so many moving-parts and people, and semi-touched on backstory (like; that as a junior, Kate was ridiculed by ‘F-Boys’ and ‘F-Girls’ for performing a song from the movie musical Ella Enchanted and the online bullying left her scarred, particularly around performing and auditioning). For a brief moment I thought; “too much.” But then something just … clicked. I stopped noticing the effort Becky was putting in, and just got swept up in the intricacies and in-jokes of this little band of theatre kids whose personal lives are maybe on the cusp of becoming as interesting as the drama-world they often play-act in. 

It’s very hard, to write that degree of minutiae and layering and make it look seamless. So that you do stop noticing the effort, and appreciate the effortlessness is takes. Classic example is the secondary character of Raina, who is a Trans girl. There’s no long, protracted and inherently tragic back-story to Raina; Kate touches on a period of transition when they were younger and Raina first came out, and certain ‘F-Girls’ tried deadnaming her … to which Raina replied by wearing an Elsa from Frozen t-shirt and channelling the Ice Queen to give herself strength. Raina in present-day has a cis-male boyfriend who is adorable and loving, and … that’s it. Simple. Deceptively so. 

Becky does it again by occasionally alluding to a favourite Kate and Anderson movie, the animated Tangled – and the fact that Noah Kaplan, ‘F-Boy’, ex-childhood friend, and across-the-way-neighbour at Kate’s Dad’s house, bears a striking resemblance to Flynn Rider of the movie. This is subtle, but it comes back again in sweetly powerful ways. As do allusions to another favourite; ‘Pride and Prejudice’ which takes on a very clever mimicking of Kate and Noah’s evolving friendship, playing with high-school archetypes. 

Anderson and Kate are the stars of the show though, and even the ‘inciting incident’ of Matt moving to town isn’t so much the spotlight, as it’s a way for Kate and Anderson to figure out how they’re going to grow together (or apart?) as they get older, emotions get serious, and relationships get more complex. I could totally see ‘Kate in Waiting’ being told entirely from Anderson’s POV (and actually; I would *totally* love a ‘Midnight Sun’ version of this novel, told entirely from Andy’s perspective) but I guess there’s still a sting there from the backlash Becky received for writing queer-male romances as a cis-woman (and her having to ‘out’ herself, or deciding to – as a way to explain how she came to her stories, as a way to work herself out. I totally get it.) so I likewise get why she maybe didn’t want to make Anderson the protagonist … and there is something built into this story of Kate having to learn to step aside and be truly happy when someone else has the spotlight and gets the final curtain-call that is profound and takes this to a deeper place too. 

Overall; this novel was heart-warming, and it’d get a thunderous round of applause and standing ovation from me, maybe with an extra WHOOP and whistle for the extra adorable story of Kate and Noah that had my heart aflutter. 


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