(Book Review) Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

By Katy Goodwin-Bates

simonI’m going to put it out there from the beginning and say that I loved Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Penguin, 2015). I am usually reluctant to proclaim such intense feelings about a book (what if the book doesn’t like me back? What if I actually love another book and this one has just dazzled me with its pretty cover and witty repartee?), but I feel confident in announcing that this book and I will enjoy a long and happy relationship.

The YA genre has been enjoying an explosion of LGBTQIA literature recently; my favourite bookshop even has a devoted section on its teenage-focused bookshelves. Of what I have read in this area, Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is my favourite by approximately 7,000 miles. When I finished it I wanted to sleep with the book under my pillow to absorb its loveliness into my dreams; this didn’t work and I actually had a really weird dream about the ending of The Dark Knight Rises, so don’t bother trying this at home.

“If Blue were a real junior at Creekwood with a locker and a GPA and a Facebook profile, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be telling him anything.  I mean, he is a real junior at Creekwood. I know that. But in a way, he lives in my laptop. It’s hard to explain.”  – page 17

The eponymous Simon is sixteen-years-old and biding his time before telling the world that he is gay. He is enjoying a rather beautiful email relationship with a boy he knows only as Blue until their online exchanges are discovered by a classmate who uses this knowledge to blackmail Simon. Simon goes along with this, not because he is scared for people to know the truth about him, but because he wants to protect Blue, which is all chivalric and sweet and made me want to hug everyone; even not knowing who they’re writing to, Blue and Simon are protective and supportive and all-round the kind of people you’d want to know in real life.

Albertalli handles beautifully the concept of coming out as gay. Simon wants to take ownership of that moment, to attack it on his own terms, while simultaneously feeling annoyed at having to do it at all. He is not tormented or sad, and his family and friends are all delightful in a completely average way. Even though I haven’t been in that situation, the way it was depicted felt real and tangible.

“As a side note, don’t you think everyone should have to come out? Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it should be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever. I’m just saying.”  – page 146

I’m beginning to feel that the inclusion of emails or social media in novels is getting a bit overdone; in the same way pop-culture references can date a book too quickly, I sometimes think 2015’s textspeak isn’t going to resonate with readers in a few years time. This is a shame in the case of much of the very good YA writing being published now. I have no such worries with Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda; although the emails between Blue and Simon are a big part of the novel, they are more like the letters you might find in an epistolary Victorian novel than the IM-ing you see in other YA literature, especially in their initial chasteness. Blue is also a grammar pedant which is just another reason to love him. The teenagers in Albertalli’s book are eloquent without sounding like characters from Dawson’s Creek (any actual young adults reading this may need to ask their parents about that particular pop-culture reference–yes, I know I just made a point about how these date writing really fast and I feel I’ve just proved that point).

What else did I love about this book? I loved Simon’s teachers and friends, who respond in exactly the way I would to some of his peers’ less supportive behaviour. I loved Simon’s taste in music–a lot of Elliott Smith, who can never, ever be out of date–which gave an unwritten sense of who he is. And, crucially, I loved that I worked out who Blue was before it was revealed, so I got to feel incredibly clever. It was, however, only about 3 pages before the big reveal came, so I am clearly not actually that smart.

Usually when I know I am going to be reviewing a book, I try to be really professional and put post-its on moments I might write about or quote, but I enjoyed reading Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda so much that I completely forgot to do this. It is really a joyous and lovely book; I’m putting it on my ‘Best Books of 2015’ list, where it can jostle for position with I’ll Give You the Sun for the title of Loveliest YA Novel (this fight would inevitably end in a tie, with the two books hugging it out and amicably eating some cupcakes together because they are fundamentally too lovely to argue).

Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda will make you smile, perhaps cry a little bit, and definitely inspire you to eat Oreos.

Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda will be available soon at GPL.


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