[This post is the third in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]
Title: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertalli
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Format: trade paperback
Genre: Young Adult
Page Count: 320
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“People really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it’s a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.” (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)
Becky Albertalli’s debut novel (soon to be a Major Motion Picture) Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a riveting and fresh story of love, friendship, and identity. The book centers on the protagonist, Simon, who is being blackmailed by a classmate, Martin. The secret he’s trying to protect? He’s gay (and not out). If he can help his blackmailer get what he wants, he might be able to take back control of his secret.
Simon also has a crush — on the guy he’s been messaging from his school, the mysterious “Blue.” The two email each other, become more than friends, and share stories (as well as a love of Oreos). Simon finds himself liking Blue more and more — and he wants to know who he really is. Blue feels the same way, but something is holding him back from revealing his true identity.
The story moves quickly and beautifully. Simon’s life becomes more dramatic as the blackmail situation gets worse and worse. Will Blue reveal himself? Can Simon get Martin to stop blackmailing him? Does Simon want to come out? The answers are painted perfectly in Simon’s first person narration. Switching every other chapter between story narrative and Blue and Simon’s emails, the story keeps the reader turning the next page until the book is finished.
It’s easy to fall in love with Simon and his intelligent sarcasm and humor. Albertalli’s writing style through Simon’s point of view is funny, engaging, and honest. Simon is a kid who knows who he is but feels locked within himself, and Albertalli writes this well. His struggle to come to terms with his identity is raw and real, and will demonstrate to the reader just how hard it can be to come to terms with sexual identities. Late in the novel, Simon confesses, “And this gay thing. It feels so big. It’s almost insurmountable. I don’t know how to tell them something like this and still come out feeling like Simon.” He wants to tell his closest friends — he feels like he needs to, it is a part of himself, but he still wants to feel the same around them.
Though it’s not exactly considered dialogue, this reviewer’s favorite parts of the book were the emails sent between Simon and his mysterious crush “Blue.” The messages and the banter between the two of them makes readers fall in love with Simon even more and makes them root for him throughout the story. The couple emails about their identity struggles, their families, and so much more. It just shows how honest communication can happen through mostly any method nowadays, and that relationship are built on just that — communication. Albertalli paints a beautiful relationship through the emails two people sent to one another, and the craft is well-done.
True and honest LGBT+ representation is hard, almost impossible to find in today’s literature. Albertalli took this lack of representation into her own hands and did what she could to give what needed to be given. Simon’s story is important not just because of the riveting story and plotline, but because it normalizes literature that represents all people.
Overall, the book gives the reader a refreshing, progressive story that one reviewer described as “The love child of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.” This is pretty accurate, and some may even add that Simon’s voice is similar to Holden Caulfield from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It’s part love story, part comedy, and readers are sure to fall in love with Simon and his story.
Go check out the book here: (x)
Check out author Becky Albertalli here: @beckyalbertalli
By Kristen Parks