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Monday, May 18, 2015

'Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda' by Becky Albertalli

Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB;

Straight people should have to come out too.

The more awkward it is, the better.

Simon Spier is sixteen and trying to work out who he is – and what he's looking for.

But when one of his emails to the very distracting Blue falls into the wrong hand, things get all kinds of complicated.

Because, for Simon, falling for Blue is a big deal . . . It's a holy freaking huge awesome deal.


‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ is the debut young adult novel from American author Becky Albertalli.

I mean, how does a person look when his walls are coming down?

I will admit that I was a bit torn about this book when I first read the blurb. On the one hand: gay protagonist is a big YAY in YA because we do have a diversity problem. On the other hand … I was a bit so-so on the emphasis of coming out in the blurb. It seemed to suggest the book would cover overtly familiar territories of LGBTQ+ narratives, instead of moving beyond to storylines in which homosexuality is the norm and being gay isn’t the most interesting thing about a character.

It took me a while to finish ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ – mostly because I didn’t want it to end and I was rationing my reading to prolong the enjoyment. Albertalli’s debut is absolutely going down as one of my favourite books of 2015 – because what I thought might be quite a reductive narrative, was in fact rather subversive in walking a tightrope between normalcy and individuality.  

Simon Spier is our sixteen-year-old protagonist who is gay, but hasn’t yet told anyone except for an anonymous online friend called Blue – who is also gay, and attends Simon’s high school. The book kicks off with one of Simon’s classmates discovering his private messages to Blue, and working out his sexual orientation … information this classmate uses to blackmail Simon into getting into the good graces of Simon’s beautiful friend, Abby. This incident triggers Simon having to tackle the topic of “coming out” head-on, and sooner than he feels comfortable.

Albertalli sucked me into the story from the first page – when we meet Simon between a rock and a hard place. From there she absolutely had me in Simon’s corner, and wrapped up in his saga of blackmailing and the mystery of Blue, carried along on this pitch-perfect narrative voice that’s both humorous and nervous, self-assured and insecure.

I loved how smart ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ was – and the big ideas that are explored. The very fact that it’s a “coming out” book is interesting in itself – at one point Blue and Simon (communicating via email) talk about how they know their respective families will probably be accepting and supportive when they tell them they’re gay, and they know they have it a lot easier than gay men did twenty or thirty years ago … but it’s still a big deal; 
 Once you come out, you can’t really go back in. It’s a little bit terrifying, isn’t it? I know we’re so lucky we’re coming out now and not twenty years ago, but it’s still really a leap of faith. It’s easier than I thought it would be, but at the same time, it’s so much harder.

A few days ago I watched a great documentary called ‘Gaycrashers’, in which Australian comedians Joel Creasey and Rhys Nicholson visit this small country town to tackle the homophobia there by putting on a comedy show. There was this wonderful moment when a worker at a timberyard said he had no problem with gay people, but it seemed to frustrate him that they “needed” all the fanfare and their own day with Mardi Gras, when heterosexual people don’t have anything like that … to which Nicholson rightly pointed out, every day is heterosexual day. I thought that was really interesting, in the context of ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ – when Simon and Blue talk about wishing that everyone had to ‘come out’ with whatever their sexual orientation, because it shouldn’t be an awkwardness only experienced by gay people.

I also loved this book because Simon isn’t perfect, and that made him more relatable. He’s actually a pretty crappy friend at times – the book has a pretty great supporting cast for Simon, with two friends called Nick and Leah who he’s known since he was a kid, and a six-month newbie to their group, the ever-perky Abby. There’s a subplot about Leah having a crush on Nick, who has a thing for Abby … and Leah feeling ousted from their group when the two boys seem to favour the more conventionally feminine Abby over Leah’s snarkier, darker outlook. I totally related to Leah, and felt frustrated with Nick and Simon for the way they treated her. I loved Leah’s story (and I’m really hoping that Albertalli has a book in store for her!) especially because in some ways it mirrored Simon’s – who at one point worries that he’s not the boy his parents wanted (assuming that being gay makes him less masculine), well Leah no doubt feels the same way when comparing herself to the “girlier” Abby. I just loved this over-arching theme that in high school, we always feel like we’re not the best versions of ourselves.

It’s strange, because in reality, I’m not the leading guy. Maybe I’m the best friend.

Becky Albertalli’s debut novel is kinda brilliant. It’s subversive and heartfelt, funny and intelligent with a protagonist to fall head over heels for, a mystery romance to leave your heart thumping and interesting discussions about sex and sexuality that make it a must-read book of 2015.

5/5

2 comments:

  1. Argh, I'm pretty sure, after finishing my assignments, that I'm going to spend the next six months catching up on all the wonderful books I've missed. Great review :)

    I also think that a suitcase full of books by the Reading Matters authors is going to be nothing compared to everything you are going to convince me I need to read by the end of my stay!

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