In March of this year, Becky Albertalli’s debut novel Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda got the big screen adaptation treatment, complete with a shortened name in the form of Love, Simon. The movie received widespread praise from critics and fans of the book alike. After finishing the book, as a reader I’m left pondering whether I love Simon and his story too, or was this just an okay read. I did enjoy aspects of the story, and I love to see more stories like this one being told, which is so, so important. But I think I’m falling more towards the latter here, because something about this book just didn’t grab me in the way I thought it would!
Simon Spier is just like every other 17-year-old trying to balance school, extracurricular activities, dating, friends and a loving (but often obsessive) family. Simon also has a huge secret he’s not quite ready to reveal…he’s gay, and has spent the last few months emailing an anonymous boy – known as Blue – from his school who is in the same situation. Both are intrigued by the other, but afraid of taking the next step and revealing their true identities to each other.
One day, Simon gets careless and leaves his email account open on a school computer. Martin, a classmate of Simon’s who has a huge crush on Simon’s best friend Abby, sees the emails and uses them as leverage to try and force Simon to get Abby to go out with him. Simon must figure out a way of appeasing Martin so that he can keep his secret and avoid scaring off Blue, who he finds he’s inexplicably falling for more and more, despite never even having met him.
Before diving into how I felt about this book, I should probably acknowledge that at 27, I’m likely not the target audience for it. But, I’ve always been of the belief that the best Young Adult Fiction will have enough to appeal to it’s core audience, as well as enough to hold the attention of an older reader also.
I found this book hard to get into in the beginning and it took me until after the first 120 pages or so to feel like I was settling into the story. It’s told from Simon’s perspective, and reading it for those first 120 pages is like taking a peek inside the mind of a hormonal, horny, hyper teenager (granted, we’ve all been there!!). But the way the first third of the narrative is structured doesn’t make for the most engrossing read. We are introduced to a lot of different characters very early on, and it’s hard to get a grasp on who Simon is talking about at different times. The story also seems to jump from random place to random place, overall feeling disjointed and lacking a clear pace or focus.
Snippets of Simon’s day-to-day life and interactions are interspersed with email correspondence between himself and Blue. These emails are fun and flirty and kind of adorable in a way, but they are definitely the type of thing you would look back on in years to come and be mortified you sent to anyone! It’s an interesting structure for the novel, in that we the reader are tasked with looking through the emails just as Simon does to try and discern Blue’s true identity. It’s an aspect I enjoyed, because I found my self flipping back and forth between who it possibly could be every time Blue said or mentioned something in particular.
Speaking of Blue, I thought the ending and his reveal was a little too boring, or cliched even. Without revealing too much, the ending is a happy one. And that’s not something I’m mad about in a sense, because it so important to have positive stories with LGBTQ characters at the forefront. But I think the author could have given a reveal with more of a biting twist to it and still worked around to an ending with a positive tone. But perhaps thats just me.
Speaking more on the importance of this novel, it’s a great thing to see novels with gay leads becoming so popular and doing so well. While some people may not like that, it is vital that our young people are exposed to a diverse array of characters that sit outside the usual straight/white/male mould, because that’s true to life. There are so many unique and different people in the world that everyone could be introduced to if they just lowered their guard and their prejudice.
Having said that, I think Albertalli does allow the story to veer a little into fantasy in the sense that every gay character in the novel appears to have no issues arise from coming out to their family. While I love the positive message, and showing people that there is no shame in being gay, I think it would have been interesting to include at least one coming out that wasn’t greeted with universal praise, love and acceptance. After all, though we might wish differently, that is unfortunately not the world we life in. Albertalli could have had a character face this harsh reality, but come out of it a stronger person who is more accepting of themselves, and be inspiring to the millions of young people who have had to go through a similar situation.
I found myself comparing this to another YA book I read and wrote a review on recently: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. In that arresting and poignant story, Thomas addresses the issues surrounding the racial prejudice faced by people of colour, and does so without shying away from the harsh realities of it. That book would likely have a similar target audience to this one, but the difference I found here is, that Thomas didn’t sugar coat the reality for her readers, while Albertalli does to some degree.
All in all, I would say I liked Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, but didn’t love it! Despite having a likeable lead character in Simon and doing important work in highlighting LGBTQ teen romance stories, it’s a hard one to get into in the beginning with so many characters and a disjointed setup. I also think the author could have taken things up a notch, and trusted her audience a little more with some tougher material as well as the positive. But overall, Simon’s story is one that should be told, is worth a read (after you get past the start), and is hopefully a sign that more LGBTQ stories will be receiving greater prominence in the literary world!
Have you read Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda? As always, feel free to let me know your thoughts below!