Book Review - Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across this title on a random list of book recommendations online, and then I realised this has been adapted for film, so I thought to give it a shot. If you're looking for a silly, lighthearted read, then this is pretty much it.

Simon is just going about his life exchanging secret emails with an unknown admirer named Blue, when his life is turned upside down by Martin. Martin accidentally comes across Simon's emails to Blue and now holds screenshots of these as leverage for blackmail. To keep him quiet, Simon has to encourage his friend Abby to go out with Martin.

Despite the fear of being outed hanging over his head, Simon continues his daily activities, including hanging out with besties Nick and Leah, performing in the school play (which stars Abby and Martin), pining over Blue and his identity, and of course, the ever-looming decision to come out.

This is a fun, easy read - a rom-com for the new generation. Most importantly, it does not other its central character's orientation, which is refreshing to read. What I also like is that at least one other character is revealed to be on the sexuality spectrum, which normalises it a little bit more.

The language is simple and the stakes are only as high as these high school kids can imagine it to be. But, the book emphasises the importance of coming out on your own terms, and details some of humanity's more disturbing reactions to anyone revealed to be different. But, nothing in this book is too extreme for the characters to be disturbed by. The reader is on cruise control throughout, because even the worst is easily overcome in this book. Well, it is a romantic comedy, and it is fun to read a feel-good story about gay characters for once.

I had a few issues with the book, and this enters spoiler territory:

Martin blackmailing Simon to get to Abby is really uncomfortable to read. The author keeps it all chaste and platonic (thankfully), but not directly addressing how problematic this request is may leave many youngsters to feel this is indeed forgivable. In the real world, Martin may not have heeded Abby's rejections, and I feel she really should have taken Simon to task about even thinking of enabling Martin, and she definitely should have reported Martin for his actions. Granted, nothing would have come of it (because humans), but just as the writer insists that the school teachers rally around Simon when he is attacked for being gay, I think our disbeliefs could have been suspended enough to ensure Abby's rights had not been impeded.

The author is far too forgiving of Martin, to be honest - but it's a good direction to take when not wanting to tar and feather any character in the book.

It is great that Abby and Bram are both written as black characters, but we don't see any other (overt) ethnic diversity. I feel like we could have also done with some body diversity in the book. Everyone is written as being really attractive. For once, a book describe men as often as women (more so, perhaps), simply because our protagonist is a gay man. Simon seems to find a lot of people attractive, but they veer towards the fit kind. Even if they weren't considered attractive by him, I think just including characters of various sizes would have been excellent, Especially since the author makes it a point of making fun of Taylor's skinny frame. I did read Abby as being curvy, but that is wishful thinking.

Simon and his friends group hang out a lot but they seem to know very little about each other. Simon knows next to nothing about his friends' families or their activities and interests outside of their get-togethers. His friends don't know he's gay (which is fine), but nor do they figure out that he is preoccupied with emailing a secret admirer. It felt dissonant for me since they all claimed to be really close. It is especially jarring given Leah's musical revelation at the end. How did he not see that coming, at all? Or maybe that's how friends work nowadays.

A small nitpick, but it seems strange to me that in today's superficial world, Simon and Blue consider each other attractive despite not knowing what the other looks like. The 'concern' that Blue may not be conventionally good-looking isn't brought up even once - why would this thought not strike a teenaged boy in the 21st century? I mean, we all know that personalities add to the attractiveness of people, and that Simon and Blue connect because of their mutual understanding, but honestly, how did this not worry them at all?

Another nitpick - when Simon, hoping to coax Blue into revealing his identity incorrectly describes him, Blue stops writing to him. For some reason, and I think this might be poor editing, it never occurs to Simon that Blue might be hurt by the thought that Simon is obviously into someone else, who looks nothing like him. Instead, Simon goes on asking him why revealing his identity would be so troublesome. Uh... pretty sure that's not why Blue stopped writing to you, mate.

[End Spoilers]

I read this book on a whim, but ended up enjoying it. It isn't my usual fare, and that probably works in its favour. It is fun to read a young, feel-good story with a twist. If you need a smile on your face, this book will definitely leave you with a big one. Now, here's hoping the film does it justice.

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