|Robb's Rambling Reviews||
Ever have a really bad day? I mean a REALLY BAD day? Multiply that by ten and you might begin to walk in Simon’s footsteps. Simon, Becky Albertalli’s protagonist in Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens’ Agenda, is a not-so-out gay high school student having to come to grips with the possibility of being outed unless he stands up to his blackmailer. Full of unexpected insights and witticisms, Albertalli’s creates an atypical hero in Simon in that what bothers Simon about being outed is not what it will mean to his own life, but more about how it will affect the life of others around him. In fact, he doesn’t even see the need to come out. “As a side note,” he says, “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.”
Another of Albertalli’s successes comes in her ability to create true to life, relatable characters who will immediately appeal to readers. Simon, our story’s hero, is in some ways your typical angst ridden sixteen year old, but in other ways he couldn’t be farther from the norm. Witty, introspective, and genuine, Simon thinks the way teenagers think and acts the way teenagers act. Having fallen head over heels for someone he knows only through emails, his hopes and wishes are totally relatable. Leah, Simon’s best friend, can be somewhat standoffish at times, but is a true and caring friend. Nick, Simon’s closest male friend, is actually more of a brother figure to Simon than friend. Abby, the newest addition the group, is the blackmailer’s object of affection, and the first person Simon personally comes out to. Although a close-knit group of friends, Albertalli has done an excellent job giving each character their own identity and personality. Readers will find them accessible and easy to relate to.
Albertalli has also done an excellent job in creating believable and enjoyable dialogue for her characters. Witty, sarcastic, or playful, the conversations between characters is spot on. Nora, Simon’s sister asks, “What's a dementor?” To which Simon replies “I mean, I can't even. Nora, you are no longer my sister.” “So it's some Harry Potter thing, she says.” Classic. When Simon comes out to his friends, Abby tells Nick "Say something supportive. I don't know. Or awkwardly hold his hand like I did. Anything." Nick and I look at each other. "I'm not holding your hand," I tell him, smiling a little. "All right" --Nick nods-- "but know that I would.” Albertalli has a knack for knowing teenage dialogue: knowing what to say and knowing when to say it, but also knowing sometimes saying a little says a whole lot more.
The premise of Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda reminds me of one of my favorite movies, You’ve Got Mail. Both center around a romance between two people who have never met face to face, communicating only via email. Although most high school students probably wouldn’t relate well to Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks as major characters in this novel, the idea that it is easier to talk to someone over a computer rather than face to face, especially when you are sharing intimate parts of yourself, resonates with teens. Technology is such a constant in their lives that this idea of striking up a friendship, or romance, before actually meeting the other party is commonplace. Another reason I was impressed with Albertalli’s novel is the treatment of Simon’s sexuality. Yes, the book centers around the crisis of his coming out, but the story is much more than just that. In some ways it is just a subplot. As Simon said in the book, it wasn’t the coming out that was the difficulty, it was the timing. It was his story to tell, so it should have been up to him to tell it, and on his terms. I think we can all relate to that.
Although the Albertalli’s story could be plucked from any high school campus, she has created a novel that speaks to today’s young readers on a personal level. Whether using witty and dynamic dialogue, creating a cast of well-rounded accessible characters or including unexpected insights into her characters and the dynamics of their friendships, Albertalli knows kids, and it shows.
Citation: Albertalli, B. (2016). Simon vs. the homo sapiens agenda. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.