This year has given us some great queer contemporaries so far! If You Still Recognise Me was a joy to read, filled with meaningful friendships, complexity of feelings and celebrations of being queer. I’m so happy to share this interview with the author, Cynthia So, as we talk about their book debuting in Pride Month, how it came to be and fun things related to the characters! I hope you enjoy this interview and if you haven’t read If You Still Recognise Me, what are you waiting for?
About the Book
If you loved Heartstopper and need more feel-good LGBTQ+ romance – If You Still Recognise Me is the one for you!
Elsie has a crush on Ada, the only person in the world who truly understands her. Unfortunately, they’ve never met in real life and Ada lives an ocean away. But Elsie has decided it’s now or never to tell Ada how she feels. That is, until her long-lost best friend Joan walks back into her life.
In a summer of repairing broken connections and building surprising new ones, Elsie realises that she isn’t nearly as alone as she thought. But now she has a choice to make…
Hi Cynthia! Thank you so much for doing this interview for Pride Month! For those who don’t know, could you introduce yourself and your debut?
Hi Gauri! Thank you for having me on your blog!
I’m Cynthia and my pronouns are they/them. I have a day job working in equality, diversity and inclusion, I love D&D, and I spend way too much time thinking about food.
My debut If You Still Recognise Me is a contemporary YA romance about 18-year-old Elsie Lo, who has a crush on her online friend Ada. The two of them met through their mutual love for a comic book series called Eden Recoiling. It’s the summer before uni, and Elsie thinks it’s now or never to confess to Ada, so she comes up with a brilliant plan: she decides to find Ada’s grandma’s long-lost best friend. Along the way, she reunites with her own long-lost best friend, Joan, and things get complicated!
Describe If You Still Recognise Me using emojis!
If You Still Recognise Me is a heartwarming story of Elsie’s summer shenaigans but even more so, it’s the story of queer people being queer in their element. What was your inspiration for this book and what kept you coming back to it?
I saw stories (I swear it was multiple stories, not just one, although I haven’t saved any of them) on Tumblr of people finding and reading diaries that belonged to their grandparents, and realising, “Oh WOW those are some queer vibes huh!”
I married that with the many crushes I’ve had on people I know from fandom and some of the ridiculous things I’ve done because of those crushes, and I had a plot.
There’s a lot about this book that kept me coming back to it. Part of it was that I just wanted to see a masc Asian lesbian in a YA book (if you know of any others, PLEASE tell me I am desperate to read them), and a queer POC/POC romance.
Elsie’s emotional arc in this book really pushed me through the writing of it. I wanted her to heal from her previous toxic relationship, and get to a place where she can open up to others again, and where she knows that she deserves to be loved and seen and cherished. That was so important to me.
I adore the representation in If You Still Recognise Me! Apart from queer women of colour, you’ve given us the stories of elderly queer love as well as characters identifying with the queer community (bisexual, asexual, non-binary, questioning, lesbian, gay). What were your thoughts behind including these aspects into the book?
It just felt natural to me to include all these different characters and different aspects of queerness. I myself am bi and nonbinary, and also demisexual, so I identify as being on the ace spectrum, and it’s always been a beautiful, comforting feeling when I’m surrounded by other queer people. I want my book to give off that same feeling, so it’s filled with queer characters of all kinds. The vibe that I’m trying to achieve with this book is the opposite of loneliness. It’s about connection, about seeing a vibrant world full of queer people who have so much love for each other.
Another lovely part of If You Still Recognise Me is the exploration of fandom culture and how it helped the queers! Was this storyline born out of personal experience?
Oh absolutely. I was 11 when I discovered fandom. I didn’t even know that gay people existed until I found fanfiction. And then just months later I had my first crush on a girl. And I don’t think I would have been able to understand that experience at all if I hadn’t been reading queer fanfic. In another world I might have been very confused, but in this world I wasn’t. I knew, clearly, that this was a crush, and that I was queer, and I knew that it was okay, because I had fandom. I was in a very homophobic environment at school and I didn’t have any queer friends IRL, but every day I got to talk to queer friends online, and think about queer characters falling in love, and it was what got me through my teenage years.
I’m so so grateful to all the friends I’ve made in fandom. They’ve helped me become who I am today. I wouldn’t be the writer I am without them.
With the collection of comics and Mangas we have today, what would the characters’ favourites be?
(Here’s where I admit I don’t read a ton of comics, though I do read manga sometimes!)
Obviously all the characters would love Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper! Felix especially is obsessed with it.
Elsie and Ada I think would both be very into The Wicked + The Divine. Although I haven’t read it, visually that’s the inspiration behind Eden Recoiling. I think they’d also like Nimona.
Joan loves sapphic/yuri manga. Bloom Into You is her favourite. I also think she likes a lot of sports manga e.g. Haikyuu!! She doesn’t read a lot of English comics/graphic novels, but if she did venture into that world, I’m sure she would love The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen and all of Tillie Walden’s stuff.
Ritika would love shoujo manga classics like Fruits Basket.
How excited are you for If You Still Recognise Me publishing in Pride Month? (I for one, feel that If You Still Recognise Me is the perfect book to read this month!!)
SO excited! I was thrilled to see that my publisher had chosen a Pride Month pub date! I definitely think IYSRM is the perfect Pride Month book. I finished the first draft during Pride Month 2019, and it’s very gratifying to finally see it out in the world 3 years later.
Fun fact: Writing Elsie’s journey with her gender expression in IYSRM actually helped me embrace my own gender identity and I first started coming out to people as nonbinary in June 2019!
Lastly, what do you deeply wish for readers to take away from If You Still Recognise Me?
I hope my readers know that they’re not alone. You can find your people and your community. There is so much joy and wonder and magic in being queer, and in exploring your identity and taking the time to figure out who you are.
About the Author
Cynthia So was born in Hong Kong and lives in London. Their work has been published in speculative fiction magazines such as Uncanny, Strange Horizons, and Anathema. They are also one of the new voices in Proud, an anthology of LGBTQ+ YA stories, poems, and art by LGBTQ+ creators, published by Stripes in March 2019. When they’re not writing, they can often be found at the theatre, entranced by a play or a musical. They’re also extremely enthusiastic about board games and tabletop role-playing.
Their debut YA novel, If You Still Recognise Me, is out on 9 June 2022. They are represented by Alice Sutherland-Hawes at ASH Literary.