Sunday, June 19, 2016

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

In the last few months, I have read two YA oriented books with gay characters debating whether or not to come out and in a secret relationship with another student. The first was Will Grayson Will Grayson and the second was Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. Both have gay male HS characters trying to figure out who they are, both have a secret love with whom they share their secrets via email/IM, and both end with a play. In both too, the love on the other end is not who is expected.

I write this wondering if this is becoming a literary trope and wishing for a different and more difficult exploration.

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is about Simon who is a gay HS youth who has not come out yet. He writes back and forth with Blue, another gay HS youth who goes to Simon's school. Neither are using their true names because neither is out yet. 

The book opens with Simon being caught. Martin, another youth at his school, threatens to expose Simon to the HS via Tumblr, unless Simon helps Martin get together with Abby, one of Simon's best friends. Nick is Simon's other friend, who has been Simon's friend since childhood. There is also Leah who is new to his friendship circle, (very minor minor spoiler warning coming. Really minor) but becomes the first person Simon comes out to.

The question is what will Simon do? What will he do for Blue?

The book takes place through the span of a few months. We see Blue and Simon's relationship grow through email texts every other chapter. We also see Simon's family and friends though Christmas and finish with a play. Simon will learn who Blue is and his life will change.

The book is written for a young adult audience, so it reads very quickly and there is lots of drama throughout the book. Things blow up quickly and resolve themselves just as quickly. Some of the side plots too aren't explored very much in depth. Simon's sisters, for example, aren't really developed, but we do hear how close Simon is to them but never see why. The relationship Simon has with Nick and Abby is also kind of light.

This isn't to say the book isn't worth one's time. I could see how a HS youth, especially someone wrestling with sexuality would find this book extremely helpful and uplifting. It has challenging situations that a HS youth would likely face and probably comes from the years of counseling youth by Albertalli. There is also a speech given by Simon to Martin that I thought was incredible and worth the price of the book by itself.

As I close, I want to return to my comparison with Will Grayson Will Grayson, as these are the only two YA books I have read in the last few months and both have a similar theme. The other troubling thing for me is in both, the parents of the gay youth, instantly love and accept them when they come out. I too have worked with many youth through the years and some have struggled with discovering their own sexuality. Sometimes it is an easy and loving conversation with parents as we see in both books, but I have met some youth who have had to leave their parents or been thrown out of their houses at too young of an age because their parents couldn't accept or love them anymore because they were LBGT. Where is that book? Where is that narrative for teen youth?

Overall, I gave Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda 3.5 stars. It is a book that can be very useful, but it could have been a bit deeper and explored some more complex issues. Blue is Jewish, as we learn, what if his father didn't accept him? What would Simon do? I would have loved that book.

Here is the Amazon link- Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

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