Title: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertalli
Year of Publication: 2015
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.3
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 5
Plot Summary: A slice of life novel told in the first person narrative, centering around Simon Spier, a sixteen year old gay boy who’s dealing with coming out, with crushing on a boy he’s never met in real life, and the Defaults in our lives.
“It’s a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don’t realize I’m being blackmailed.”
This is a great way to start a book. It has all the classic hallmarks of a very good opener, and it sucked me in instantly.
A successful first person narrative needs an engaging protagonist who’s likable on at least a few levels. Simon is that protagonist, and he’s likable on a whole bunch of levels.
As a closeted gay boy in a not particularly liberal high school, Simon keeps his crushes a secret – especially his ongoing non-relationship with an anonymous batchmate identified only as ‘Blue’. As a fan of unconventional narrative devices, I’m especially delighted every time an author successfully conveys at least part of a story in emails or via instant messaging. There’s so much to discover in these narratives – especially in emails: the screen names and email ids used, the constantly changing subject line, the use – or non use – of contemporary internet slang, and the things we choose to put into email form. These are all subtle hints about the characters, left around like Easter Eggs for the readers to hunt around and find.
Simon swears a lot, and it’s not weird or crude, but what I would designate ‘artful use of language’ to ‘create quite the effect’.
“What are you trying to say?” I ask.
“Nothing. Look, Spier, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s just not that big of a deal.”
Except it’s a little bit of a disaster, actually. Or possibly an epic fuckstorm of a disaster, depending on whether Martin can keep his mouth shut.
As the book proceeds, Simon keeps trying – unsuccessfully – to unearth Blue’s identity. This brings me to one of the book’s many beautiful truths – that we always imagine someone to be who we want them to be. Simon wrongly assumes Blue is a guy he’s already crushing on, something which Blue picks up on, and seems slightly miffed about. On the other hand, Blue points out that he was able to guess Simon’s identity correctly because he was already crushing on Simon.
And when Simon’s crush hints at liking him, Simon is torn. After all, Blue is proving reluctant to reveal his identity or meet in real life, and his crush is right there – tangible, real, and reciprocating. Ultimately however, there’s no running or hiding from the very real love into which Simon and Blue have fallen.
The romance is well crafted, drawing the reader in and getting them to fall in love with both Simon and Blue. The scene where they meet for the first time is especially lovely, and I think I’m not wrong in suggesting that even the most astute of guessers would feel their worlds tilt a little before righting itself. I did guess Blue’s identity right, but the thrill of the mystery unraveled had me in its grasp for a moment or two before I could indulge in exultant fist pumping.
Simon v. THSA is also a wonderful coming-of-age novel. Simon getting drunk for the first time, Simon coming home drunk and freaking his parents out, Simon drunk texting. It’s all portrayed extremely realistically, as I can attest to from my own not-so-long-ago teenage years. Drunk Simon, might I add, is a riot, especially thanks to his tendency to go all Social Justice Warrior.
Here’s Simon engaging in an intellectual discussion on race:
“Leah, did you know you have a really Irish face?”
She looks at me. “What?”
“You guys know what I mean. Like an Irish face. Are you Irish?”
“Um, not as far as I know.”
“My ancestors are Scottish,” someone says. I look up, and it’s Martin Addison wearing bunny ears.
“Yeah, exactly,” I say as Martin sits beside Abby, close but not too close. “Okay, and it’s so weird, right, because we have all these ancestors from all over the world, and here we are in Garrett’s living room, and Martin’s ancestors are from Scotland, and I’m sorry, but Leah’s are totally from Ireland.”
“If you say so.”
“And Nick’s are from Israel.”
“Israel?” says Nick, fingers still sliding all over the frets of the guitar. “They’re from Russia.”
So I guess you learn something new every day, because I really thought Jewish people came from Israel.
“Okay, well, I’m English and German, and Abby’s, you know . . .” Oh God, I don’t know anything about Africa, and I don’t know if that makes me racist.
“West African. I think.”
“Exactly. I mean, it’s just the randomness of it. How did we all end up here?”
“Slavery, in my case,” Abby says.
And fucking fuck. I need to shut up. I needed to shut up about five minutes ago.
The stereo kicks back in again.
The book, as evidenced by the above passage, is full of humour. And the humour isn’t in your face – it’s casual and laid back, and jumps out at you when you least expect it. Like here:
It’s chilly and unnaturally quiet—if Abby weren’t with me, I would have to drown out the silence with music. It feels like we’re the last survivors of a zombie apocalypse. Wonder Woman and a gay dementor. It doesn’t bode well for the survival of the species.
I couldn’t explain how funny this book is, unless I chose to quote unquote like, 85% of the book. It’s a MUST-READ. Just for the humour. Oh, Simon. He’s downright freaking HILARIOUS.
And here he is, discussing coming out with Blue:
Simon: 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.
Blue: It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold. Straight people really should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better. Awkwardness should be a requirement. I guess this is sort of our version of the Homosexual Agenda?
Simon: The Homosexual Agenda? I don’t know. I think it’s more like the Homo Sapiens Agenda. That’s really the point, right?
And there you are. Challenging the Defaults. The pure core of intersectionality. The heart of this book.
Simon v. THSA is that one of a kind YA Fiction novel that makes you want to run through the streets, raving about the genre and the good it does in the world. It’s that book you’ll keep going back to, over and over again, because it keeps you laughing from start to finish. It’s that romance that turns even the most hard hearted of cynics all gooey and giggly. It’s the book that makes you believe in love and in the spring of youthful innocence again.
Simon v. The Homo Sapiens Agenda: Proudly carrying on the torch first lit by Harry Potter and staunchly carried forward by Perks of Being A Wallflower before it – at least as far as my reading list is concerned.