Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda
by Becky Albertalli
Rating: 4 Stars
‘Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met…’
This came highly recommended as an interesting and fun exploration of the life of a gay teenager; a book that reads like real teenagers rather than just the cast of stereotypes that can plague a lot of contemporary YA – especially those set in schools. Frankly, high school was an overlong portion of my life that I have little desire to repeat, so it’s rare that I reach for a book with a school setting. But Simon pleasantly surprised me. It was funny, it was nostalgic without being blind and there was a lot of wry observations on the school experience that made me smile.
We open the novel with Simon’s life just beginning to spiral out control. He’s trying to balance working out how to come out to his family and friends, with juggling an online relationship with a guy he only knows by his screen name, all whilst being blackmailed by a fellow student.
The book strikes a great tone between humorous and thought provoking. I read it in one sitting, it’s a fun, quick and easy read. When I say easy, I mean that it flows smoothly and there’s a lot too enjoy along the way. However, there are some sections in here that are definitely not easy reading. The internal struggle that Simon faces when his choice of when to come out is taken away so callously by a fellow student makes for some very uncomfortable reading. The choices he makes in the wake of this are not all good ones. He uses his friendship with a girl as a form of bargaining with his blackmailer and doesn’t really consider what this could do to her, that he in his way is also manipulating the life of another. When the truth of this is finally revealed to the girl, I thought the way the author portrayed her reaction was spot on. I liked that it wasn’t just swept under the rug. That, despite being a victim himself, Simon still has to deal with the consequences of his actions.
Another thing I really enjoyed were the pop culture references – there were enough to establish the setting but not too many to overload the reader, for instance Simon’s preoccupation with Harry Potter was a lot of fun. The relationship between Simon and his family is also dealt with very well, they feel like a family, with all their peculiarities, family traditions and complex dynamics.
There’s a deceptively large amount of work gone into this book, it may be fun and quite slight. But there’s a great deal of wisdom in it’s pages and it’ll certainly make you thing about the shape of our society and the pressure of expectations on young adults.