Title: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertalli
Genre: Young Adult | Romance | Contemporary
Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.
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Note: before launching into my review, I’d like to say something. I’m glad I read this, even though I didn’t enjoy it much. I’m glad I read it because it is an important book. That’s all.
So I’m the only one in this entire universe that doesn’t think this book is the best thing since Nutella was conceptualized. Which is a shame because I really wanted to like this book. You may all know by now that I’m not usually the biggest fan of contemporaries, but there are some books out there that challenge my taste. This was not one of them.
I haven’t read much LGBTQ+ fiction unfortunately. And coupled with the fact that I’m a straight girl, I don’t think I’m the best person to review how the LGBTQ+ aspects work in this novel. So, I’m going to avoid touching on that because I feel the people who go through the motions of these important themes are more qualified to speak for them. That is not to say that I didn’t think the LGBTQ+ elements weren’t done well in this. Personally, I appreciated how Albertalli dealt with the aspect of “coming out” in a light, but simultaneously profound way, but again – I’m going to avoid talking about that, simply because I do not believe I am qualified to talk about it.
I didn’t love the storyline of this book. I didn’t think it was structured well, I didn’t think the pacing was done right. There were too many characters for such a short novel, and there were many themes being tackled at the same time, most of which were very heavy, important themes. I didn’t think they were given the time they probably deserved. For example, Albertalli explores the issue of feeling isolated in friendships, and this is a recurring theme throughout the novel. The resolution of this particular issue felt lackluster, and very rushed. There were also many arcs between several secondary characters, many of which felt unresolved. I feel like Albertalli can go on writing forever and ever about these characters and their arcs, and that’s not always the best feeling when you know the story is done, over, and probably isn’t going to be revisited again.
I liked the romance. When people say this is a cute book, they’re right. The romance was heart-warming and adorable as two boys, struggling to show the world such a big part of themselves find solace in each other. Personally, I thought Albertalli made Blue’s identity very predictable. She was trying a little too hard to deflect the reader’s attention which totally gave it away for me. But I don’t think that’s such a bad thing – in the end, I was happy with who Blue turned out to be, and Simon and ‘Blue’s’ few interactions at the end of the novel made me “aww” pretty hard.
I think my main problem with this book lay in the characters. I’m not talking about our protagonist here, because I very much liked him. He’s one of those people you naturally gravitate towards in real life because they’re so loving, so warm and lovely. Albertalli established a very strong voice for him that remained consistent throughout. I feel like I know this kid. He was quick-witted and hilarious. He’s obsessed with Oreos, and doesn’t like Chick-Fil-A because of their political and social stances. He’s a big Harry Potter fan. He’s cynical and sarcastic but a great, genuine, welcoming friend. I love Simon.
And I also quite liked Blue. Despite interacting with his character almost entirely through chats, I felt like I had a general feel for him too. Reclusive, very quiet, keeps to himself. But smart, observant, very intelligent.
The secondary characters were the problem. I do not know who these people are, and considering that they took up a large chunk of the novel, that didn’t sit well with me. There’s Nick who is good-looking and Simon’s friend, but um, who is he? He likes Abby who is bubbly and amazing and everyone likes her, but do I know anything about her? Leah, who is apparently Simon’s best friend but I saw nothing in their relationship that was worth being called a friendship. All this kind of dragged this book down when it had great, great potential.
I think Becky Albertalli is great at narration. I love the humor and flair in her writing, and I think she’s a strong new voice in the young adult contemporary genre. I do however feel that she needs to work on pacing, on knowing what she wants to focus on in her novels rather than going a little all over the place. Also, relying on secondary characters as a tool to develop the protagonist rather than a device to advance the plot can do wonders.