Posted on May 1, 2016 | Back to Literature
REVIEWED: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Here be spoilers.
I’ve had the opportunity to review a few books featuring LGBT youth which, as you might expect, have ranged from bad to excellent. Some young adult authors are clearly adding gay characters to their books because, I surmise, they feel it’s expected by modern teen and Millennial readers who are historically open-minded on the subject. While tokenism is annoying, it appears to be a waning trend as more and more YA authors like John Green, David Levithan, Maggie Stiefvater and Stephen Chbosky provide us with authentic LGBT characters. Now you can add Becky Albertalli happily, gleefully to this list.
Albertalli’s Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is perhaps more accurately a gay romance than a coming out story. The titular character is a 16-year-old high school student who has largely come to terms with his sexuality but is still dragging his feet about coming clean with friends and family. In fact, the only person he’s shared his sexuality with is an unknown classmate nicknamed “Blue” whom he met through his school’s Tumblr page and communicates with entirely through Gmail. The honest missives he shares with Blue are slowly giving Simon more confidence, even though their relationship is inherently dishonest. After all, it's a romance which exists only in a virtual world where people can be anyone they want or anyone you want them to be. Both boys are reluctant to break this spell by revealing themselves to the other.
Yet their carefully cultivated secrecy is endangered when a schoolmate named Martin accidentally intercepts their email exchanges and blackmails Simon into helping him win over a female classmate. When this arrangement doesn’t go as planned, Martin outs Simon on the same Tumblr page where he and Blue met. Rather than caving to this attempted humiliation, Simon owns the truth and with his gay identity now revealed, becomes even more determined to meet Blue in person.
If I have one big criticism of this book, it’s that Simon’s very public outing does not result in any substantial trauma. Although there are a handful of homophobic incidents following the revelation, Simon’s family, friends and teachers are overwhelmingly supportive. While I have no problem showing gay teens receiving the moral and emotional support they deserve, Albertalli notes on multiple occasions that the book’s setting of the Deep South is perhaps not the best place for a young man to come out. But since Simon doesn’t seem to have any real fear of being ostracized, and in fact doesn’t experience any serious prejudice, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda sends some mixed signals on this particular subject.
Regardless, the book is proudly optimistic and ultimately resolves itself as a sweet story about a boy’s first love. For gay teens struggling to find themselves, whether they live in the Deep South or not, it’s important for them to have hope through the written word. In this respect, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda fits the bill nicely.