Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
On a microscopic level, it’s a story about a teenage boy “coming out”, not just to his friends and his family but to the world. When we zoom out, we see that it’s so much more than that. It’s about life and love; friendship and family; and ultimately, the unbreakable bonds that connect us as homo sapiens. The scene where Simon tells us that the story has very little to do with him and more to do with the people in his life really sums up the premise of the novel beautifully. When Simon is blackmailed by a classmate, he must help him if he wants to keep his sexuality a secret. Meanwhile, there’s Blue; a guy that Simon falls madly in love with and will do anything to protect. It’s a funny story, chronicling the ups and downs of everyday, teenage life. My only critique is that the author makes the identity of Blue all too predictable and so it takes some of the magic out of it for me. I think Albertalli could have also pushed the story a bit further in ways but overall, the plot is great and we’re finally starting to see the emergence of LGBT YA as a mainstream genre with universal appeal.
Simon’s narration is generally spot-on. There are times when his perspective feels a bit stilted and generic, particularly at the beginning of the novel. Words like “freaking”/“fucking”/“fuckstorm”/“holy box of awkwardness”/“goober”/“goddamn”/“hell” make him come across as a bit of a caricature but luckily, he straddles the line so carefully that for the most part, it’s not an issue but when it is an issue, it’s like being hit by an eighty-miles-an-hour wind in December. Still, you can’t take away from the humorous narrative voice:
“So maybe it’s the winter air of maybe it’s soccer boy calves, but after everything that’s happened today, I’m actually in a pretty decent mood.”
There’s a lively cast of characters and even better, there’s tension and chemistry between them. The Leah-Abby-Nick triangle affects the other characters. Nick is great as the quiet musician. We see different sides to Marty; both vulnerability and a funnier, goofier side. We see the evolution of Simon’s character from start to finish. I particularly liked Simon’s sisters, Norah and Alice and the scene where Simon is grounded and, wanting to speak to Leah, he makes a deal with his Mom to allow her supervised access to his Facebook account. Seriously? They’re freaking hilarious! Simon has some really clever, witty lines too:
“‘The blondest circle of hell.’”
Quality of Writing: 20/20
Albertalli’s writing lulls you into the story with her easy, understated style. She demonstrates a powerful grasp of the English language while still staying true to what her character would do and say:
- “So when the school day ends, and nothing extraordinary has happened, it’s a tiny heartbreak. It’s like eleven o’clock on the night of your birthday, when you realize no one’s throwing you a surprise party after all.”
- “A couple of the girls put some junk in my hair to make it messy, which is basically like putting high heels on a giraffe.”
- “And cranking Sufjan Stevens at top volume doesn’t solve anything, why is probably why people don’t crank Sufjan Stevens. My stomach is apparently on a spin cycle.”
The story is set in Shady Creek and most of the action takes places at Creekwater High. Albertalli captures the physical settings perfectly but she adds another layer in her references to pop music (Tegan and Sara and Justin Bieber), specific locations (Chick-Fil-A) and gaming (Assassin’s Creed). Furthermore, the e-mails intrigue the reader and these, along with the Tumblr, lends the story a credible modernity.
Comparative Literature: 9/10
The writing is very reminiscent of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Is it an original story? Not necessarily but Albertalli infuses the story with a modernity that Alex Sanchez’s and much of David Levithan’s works seem to lack. It’s s standout in its genre and something that will have universal appeal; it’s a story that will reach out to many teens, regardless of sexuality. Personally, I give Albertalli two-thumbs-up for managing for making something that could have been extremely niche, so universal.
Overall Score: 92/100
Rate it or Slate it?
Rate it: The words are the wrapping paper, the characters are the gift and somewhere in between lie the kernels of truth of the everyday life.
Books You May Also Like:
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan – for an LGBT story infused with character and humor
Geography Club by Brent Hartinger – a funny LGBT story that explores the sexuality and the social minefield
Rainbow Boys by David Sanchez – a coming-of-age story about three boys, their secrets and betrayals
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – for that same easy readability
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan – for a story about two different Will Graysons that encompasses hope, serendipity and love