Review: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2015)

Rating: ★★★★½
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance, Drama
Categories: M/M, hidden identity
Content Warnings (highlight to read): Deals with homophobia & includes homophobic slurs.
Buy it at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Description: Simon, a high schooler in a small town, is gay, and nobody should know except for the mysterious boy with whom he exchanges anonymous emails. Except someone else does know—and that person has decided to blackmail him for his help in hooking up with one of Simon’s friends. How can Simon keep his grades up, decide how to come out to his friends and family, act in the school play, deal with high school friend drama, try to track down the boy he’s pretty sure he’s falling in love with, and negotiate the shady territory of being blackmailed into manipulating his own besties, all at the same time?

Impression: I mean, Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli has been nominated for (and received) numerous awards; it’s now a major motion picture (which I haven’t seen, but I hope to!). You don’t need me telling you it’s a great read, but hey — it’s a great read.

Albertalli’s narrative voice is whip-smart, easy to read, witty, and fun, while still reading genuinely like a high school boy’s POV (lord, I remember when I was a high school student, and 90% of what I said was a reference to whatever media I was into, but kudos to Albertalli here as well—they were believably personal while still being broad enough that none of the references left me confused). The pacing was bang on, and I ended up reading the book in one sitting.

And I’m very glad the narrative was so funny, because, as the high school queer who came out partway through school and was bullied horribly as a result, this book sent my anxiety through the roof. It was very, very real for me, down to the types of bullying that Simon received (not to dive into my own traumas, but needless to say, the type of things students thought they could get away with right in front of teachers rang very true to me). I genuinely do think that this book needs to be read with caution if you’ve experienced homophobic bullying, because I’ve been out of high school nearly 20 years and this still got my pulse racing with explicit flashbacks.

But even so, it’s still worth reading, and I’m glad I did. In the midst of all that, and in the midst of all the other believable Teenage Drama—people making bad decisions while emotions were flying, people taking it personally when A hangs out with B instead of C, people thinking things won’t be a huge deal when they are a Huge Deal—the story was about loving each other, understanding each other, getting to know each other, and it was warm, uplifting, and sweet.

My one small quibble is that the mysterious ‘Blue’ isn’t as fully developed as anyone else in the story despite his being so important to it—we learn a lot about him through what he talks about in his emails, of course, but much of what we learn about the other characters are in their reactions to drama, and we don’t really see any of that with Blue. Even when there are things going on that would affect him—his own reaction to the homophobic bullying Simon receives, or the entire blackmail situation, or changing friends groups—it all seems to bypass him to the point that I’m not even sure he’s aware of it. The only drama we see him dealing with are through characters we don’t know, in his emails about his family. I would have liked just… maybe another 10, 20 pages to work in a little of Blue’s own emotional reactions on page to the events of the story to understand how he feels about the mess that Simon had been hurt by, and had been trying to protect Blue from being hurt by too.

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