Author Interview: Unbecoming by Seema Yasmin

Crushed on by Christy Jane, on July 8, 2024, in Author Interview, New Releases / 0 Comments

Author Interview: Unbecoming by Seema Yasmin

Unbecoming by Seema Yasmin is a very timely narrative about what happens when the government is controlling access to healthcare, abortion, and women’s bodies. We had the opportunity to ask Seema Yasmin, who is a Medical Doctor, about writing her debut YA novel. Check out what she has to say below, and grab this important book releasing tomorrow, July 9th!

Author Interview: Unbecoming by Seema Yasmin


by Seema Yasmin
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
on June 9, 2024
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

Two Muslim teens in Texas fight for access to abortion while one harbors a painful secret in this funny and heartfelt near-future speculative novel perfect. Written in a dual POV (including one queer narrator)!

In a not-too-distant America, abortions are prosecuted and the right to choose is no longer an option. But best friends Laylah and Noor want to change the world. After graduating high school, they’ll become an OBGYN and a journalist, but in the meantime, they’re working on an illegal guide to abortion in Texas.

In response to the unfair laws, underground networks of clinics have sprung up, but the good fight has gotten even more precarious as it becomes harder to secure safe medication and supplies. Both Layla and Noor are passionate about getting their guide completed so it can help those in need, but Laylah treats their project with an urgency Noor doesn’t understand—that may have something to do with the strange goings-on between their mosque and a local politician.

Fighting for what they believe in may involve even more obstacles than they bargained for, but the two best friends will continue as they always have: together.

Author Interview: Seema Yasmin

1. Talk to us about Laylah and Noor. Who do you hope finds their stories?

Laylah came to me fully formed. It was the summer of 2019, I was thinking about states like Texas where abortion might as well be banned—abortion was already so darned restricted—and who pops into my head? A 17-year-old from Dallas; a girl who swears by her bullet journal and weekly planner to keep her life on track; a girl deadest on getting into med school and becoming an OB/GYN; a girl who balances school assignments with volunteer work at the mosque and Wednesday-night baking with her grandma and studying for the MCAT (three years too early); a girl who experiences a glitch in the Laylah Life Plan when she gets carried away with her boyfriend on a school trip and winds up pregnant.

Unbecoming starts with a countdown. Laylah has one week to unbecome pregnant or else it will be too late for a medication abortion and surgical abortions are completely out of the question. I was tasked with imagining what this week in Laylah’s life would look like in a world in which America has outlawed all abortion. Her bestie Noor, editor of the school news site and winner of many investigative journalism awards, would be the perfect ally for Laylah—a literal partner-in-crime—during this wild week. But Laylah is scared. She’s scared to confess her mistake. She just wants The One Bad Decision that led to Life-changing Consequences to disappear and for no one to ever have to know.

I hope everyone who’s ever been scared of being their full, messy self, finds this book. Anyone who’s ever felt like I’m the only one who’s ever gone through this, whatever “this” might be. Perfectionism keeps us lonely. Hundreds of thousands of American teens get pregnant each year. One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetimes. Teen pregnancy and abortion are part of life. I want them to be a part of our stories. I hope everyone who needs this book—anyone seeking affirmation that life is messy but that we can mess up and still be loved—finds it.

2. Coming from your perspective as a doctor, what was the hardest part of writing Unbecoming?

It was more my Muslimness that got in the way. There was a point at which some Muslim characters conjured by my imagination were starting to appear shady, or maybe they really were shady? (I’m not going to give it away!) and I felt that dreaded, predictable, but absurd responsibility to be A Good Muslim Author and not create Muslim characters who might—shock, horror—do things like lie! Or steal! Or get on people’s nerves! This is when you call in help. My brilliant friend, Rana Tahir, talked me through my feelings and reminded me that I, Seema Yasmin, am not responsible for the way that 1.9 billion people are perceived. Phew!

In case you’re curious why a minoritized writer might shoulder this burden, it’s because we grew up seeing our people misrepresented in literature and the media and so there can be an urge to correct the record and write into our stories only lovely Muslims who are definitely not terrorists, have complete control of their anger, know nothing about uranium, and who bake and crochet all day. While the tropes we grew up with were brutal and dehumanizing, the urge to correct the record with Muslim characters who don’t get to be messy and horny and all the things is equally dehumanizing.

Once I gave myself permission to write what I wanted to write, it was a joy to create fully-fleshed, flawed, witty, annoying, loveable, and complex Muslim characters, such as Laylah, Noor and others in their orbit.

3. What was different about writing a fictional story versus the non-fiction you’ve written previously?

I get asked this question a lot because I’ve written non-fiction books like What the Fact?! and Viral BS, as well as a poetry collection and a kid’s book. What surprises me every time I consider the response is that much of the process is the same! Whether I’m writing a YA novel or a picture book, there’s a lot of reading, researching and interviewing that happens (that’s the reporter in me), followed by a lot of what I call “inspired writing,” which anyone else might call stream of consciousness writing, or pantsing. That’s followed by some panicked outlining when my pantsing has created tricky scenarios and potential plot holes, (that’s when I call Rana), and then lots of back and forth with my incredible editor, who for Unbecoming, was Justin Chanda.

My next YA novel is panning out much the same. I’ve interviewed psychiatrists, climatologists, and exorcists (so far!) and am in the joyful pantsing phase. I keep telling myself I’ve learned my lesson and will stop to write an outline before the plot gets complicated. But I’m too caught up in the flow of writing to be that sensible!

About Seema Yasmin

DR. SEEMA YASMIN is an Emmy Award–winning journalist who was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, medical doctor, professor, and poet. She attended medical school at Cambridge University and worked as a disease detective for the US federal government’s Epidemic Intelligence Service. She currently teaches storytelling at Stanford University School of Medicine, and is a regular contributor to CNN, Self, and Scientific American, among others. Her other books include What the Fact?: Finding the Truth in All the Noise, The ABCs of Queer History, If God Is A Virus, Viral BS: Medical Myths and Why We Fall for Them, Djinnology: An Illuminated Compendium of Spirits and Stories from the Muslim World, Muslim Women Are Everything: Stereotype-Shattering Stories of Courage, and The Impatient Dr. Lange: One Man’s Fight to End the Global HIV Epidemic.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for gifting us a finished copy!


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