“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’ve been looking forward to ‘Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda’ since seeing it mentioned on Epic Reads for the first time either early this year or late last year. It’s the story of a sixteen year old boy who is trying to work out how to come out to his friends and family – he’s not scared of how they’re going to take it, but he’s not exactly excited about all of the awkwardness. Only one person in the entire world knows that Simon is gay and that is Blue, his anonymous online friend who is also gay and unable to come out.
At least, Blue is the only one who knows, until Simon leaves his email logged in at school and he gets found out by joker of the class Martin Addison. Martin likes Abby, the new girl, who Simon is friends with – he tells Simon that if he doesn’t help him start a relationship with Abby, he’ll tell the entire school about Simon’s sexuality.
Simon doesn’t appreciate the fact that he’s being blackmailed, but because Martin also knows about Blue he decides to go along with the blackmail plot to protect him as well. The problem is that Abby doesn’t like Martin; she actually has feelings for Simon’s best friend, Nick, who also likes her. So, as you can imagine, Simon has a struggle on his hands.
I really, really, really enjoyed ‘Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda’. In fact, I’d say I was completely goddamn in love with the thing, until the last fifty or so pages. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but let’s just say that the end of the book isn’t really necessary – it’s just tying up all of the loose ends, some of which really don’t need to be tied.
The reason I really, really, really enjoyed this book is because it was just so easy to relate to. In fact, I’m pretty sure I am Simon. There are scenes that could be pulled directly from my life, and I did find it extremely eerie at times how much of a mirror image it seemed to be. This is probably because Becky Albertalli has a real skill at writing a realistic young adult: plenty of swearing, some underage drinking, definite confusion about the self, but an aching need to just be. Simon debates the fact about whether he really needs to come out, because he knows himself and he just knows that he is gay, but he understands that people really need to be told about it – I’ve been debating the exact same thing with myself over the last few weeks.
As well as the actions and emotions of the characters being realistic, the characters themselves are realistic. Simon’s group of close friends includes a larger girl, a black girl and a couple of Jewish people, making for what seems like a diverse group of people – it just feels like a real group of friends. These characters aren’t defined by the things that make them different, they just are different! I think you get that so often in real life, but it doesn’t always transfer to the page. The interactions between them all are well thought out and are understandable: these characters have definitely personalities, and they don’t really do anything that’s out of the ordinary or over the top.
With every other chapter, we get emails between Simon and Blue, showing their relationship playing out. Blue is an extremely witty character with a great heart, and I found myself laughing out loud at multiple points during their interactions – the chemistry between the characters is captured brilliantly. I love the medium of email being used in fiction, but oftentimes I find that it’s really hard to tell the difference between the characters: not the case in this novel because their individual voices and attitudes were so distinctive, their dialects and sentence structures really showing their personalities perfectly.
This book is humourous without being a parody, and emotional without being a tearjerker. It’s only Becky Albertalli’s debut novel, but I think she’s pulled off something really special – the writing is a dream, and the plot and characters are brilliantly constructed. The end does let the book down – maybe that’s my negative attitude prevailing – but other that that it’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s also one of the best LGBT books I’ve ever read: obviously, the plot focuses on Simon’s sexuality, but it also shows him dealing with his family and his friends, perfectly demonstrating the fact that gay people aren’t other – they’re exactly the same as the wider majority, with exactly the same fears and concerns.
‘The whole coming out thing doesn’t really scare me. I don’t think it scares me. It’s just a giant holy box of awkwardness, and I won’t pretend I’m looking forward to it. But it probably wouldn’t be the end of the world.’