From the bestselling author of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, comes a sweeping love letter to high school crushes, theater, and friendships. In her latest standalone, Becky Albertalli tells the story of Kate, a charming and delightful teenage girl who loves too much, gets her heart broken too often, and holds her friendships so dear against all odds.
Kate in Waiting is an ode to crushes. Kate and her best friend Anderson exercise a practice they call ‘communal crushes,’ as both teens silently crush on a distant attractive boy, sharing giggles and butterflies, and when nothing comes out of it, their heartbreak. But when one of their distant summer crushes, Matt Olsson, actually shows up at their school and becomes friends with the duo, Kate and Anderson are now struck with the reality that this time around something might actually come out of the crush, and liking – and getting – Matt might actually hurt their friendship.
As Matt is cast as a love interest opposite Kate in their school musical, and starts spending more time with both friends, the communal crush slowly starts to become an unintentional competition, and Kate is devastated about hurting Andy’s feelings if her own feelings ever become reciprocated. Not to mention that her brother’s annoying best friend Noah has suddenly joined the musical, keen to become friends with Kate, adding more complications to the brewing love triangle.
Seeing these two kids go all out on their crushes is delightful. I am a serial crusher myself, and I wish more stories zoned in on the bittersweet beauty and joy of having unrequited crushes. There is also that gradual build-up when a fun crush actually becomes serious, the moment you start to catch feelings, that little flash of understanding. High school love and feelings are also extremely messy (who am I kidding, it’s messy even now in my 20s), and Albertalli understands that completely. But in the midst of all the crushing and the theatric renditions of love and loss, at the heart of this book is Kate and Anderson’s friendship that powers the narrative through.
The Tempest sat down with Becky Albertalli for an exclusive Q&A (which we will release in full soon) and she admitted to be a “veteran communal crusher.” She also revealed that the book is dedicated to Adam Silvera (author of They Both Die at the End) with whom she co-wrote the NYT bestselling novel What If It’s Us. Their friendship is a huge inspiration for the relationship between Kate and Anderson, however she also mentioned that “for the most part, it seems that my characters just have to find their footing with each other through trial and error. I get to know them—and they get to know each other—as I write them.”
But the story is not all conflict and moping, in fact Kate in Waiting is probably the most fun I’ve had with a YA book in recent times. Since the backdrop is a school musical, you can imagine the fanfare and the drama, along with all the laughter and tears (theater and musicals has played a role in Albertalli’s previous novels, especially in Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda). The theater background also adds to the idea of social facades that plays a big role in the story. Both Kate and Anderson catch themselves attempting to change part of who they are in the pursuit of love, and the way it contrasts with the actual roles they play in the musical is so brilliant.
Becky also talked to us about theater in the story, and how it adds to the thematic concerns of the narrative: “I was an unabashed, fully committed theater kid throughout middle and high school—it was such a big part of my identity as a teen. Including theater in Kate In Waiting was never a thematic decision—the idea of social facades spilled into the narrative pretty organically (in a way that gave me more insight into my own relationship with theater). I do think the world of high school theater created the perfect backdrop (pun intended) for this story and these friendships. I loved having the opportunity to deep dive into some of my favorite high school memories—I was even in Once Upon a Mattress as a sophomore— naturally, I was a lady in waiting.”
Albertalli’s books have become sort of comfort reads to me, as her stories carry a sense of hope, optimism, and centers joy even in the midst of conflict and real-life issues. Her characters exist in a protected bubble where they are allowed to make mistakes, find love, and move on without having to always worry about the outside world.
People of color and queer characters are able to enjoy a world of acceptance and love, and it’s so refreshing to be able to read an almost utopian rendering of high school. Is that unrealistic? Maybe. But sometimes we deserve stories that highlight what could be and what we deserve, instead of always having to provide a reality check.
Another key element of Albertalli’s stories is friendships – in all their messy glory. Kate in Waiting convinces you in the deep friendship between Kate and Anderson, that with every passing minute I am terrified of what this new communal crush is going to do to their friendship. They are pretty much soulmates, and even when their relationship enters some rocky patches, they never lose sight of who and what really matters.
I also really loved a conversation about privilege between these two – probably one of the only times when the story acknowledges difference and marginalization – and Anderson’s deep-rooted insecurities of being Black and gay, that gives Kate a much-needed reality check and humbling.
Kate in Waiting is a heartfelt and wholesome story that is guaranteed to bring you much joy, with a sweet romance, sweeter friendships, and characters who are lovable and delightful even at their worst moments. The story has all the trademark Becky Albertalli elements, with a deep understanding of what it is to be a teenager, to catch feelings, and to move on.