Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a pitch perfect book that gets tone, character, plot, and flow exquisitely perfect. It’s the type of book that leaves you with a big smile that lingers long after you’ve finished; an easy read with distinct characters and an emphasis on the people, not the drama or being gay. As well, a lot of cliches in this genre are neatly avoided, making for a strong and distinct voice from our main character.
Story: Simon is 16, has great friends, does well at school, and has a cool family (well, ok, perhaps they try a bit too hard to be cool). He even likes his older and younger sisters. Simon’s also figured out he’s gay but doesn’t feel any pressure to come out. When he meets someone like himself on the school’s private tumbler, he thinks maybe it might be the right time to let his friends/family know. But “Blue” is a bit more shy about the prospect – including telling Simon who he is. While Simon tries to figure which of his friends might be Blue, an email is left up and he finds himself annoyingly blackmailed. He worries that his relationship with good friends might change as well as the ‘big deal’ his parents will make of the situation in supporting him. But all the same, what he really wants is to convince Blue that meeting in person really is the best for both of them.
Although a YA read, this is very down to earth and sweet – lacking over the top scenes, angst, evil high schoolers, sex, drugs, or rock and roll. Much of the plot is Simon dealing with an acquaintance who wants to meet Simon’s popular and pretty girl pal, Abby, and who knows of Simon’s emails to Blue. It’s a light and implied blackmail that Simon resents even as he goes along setting the two up halfheartedly. The rest of the plot is the sweetly unfolding romance in email form between Blue and Simon – at first cautious and then more curious about each other as the plot progresses. It’s the type of story that you fall in love with as you watch the characters fall in love.
There are several side stories though the book is told solely through Simon’s very grounded POV. “She loves him, he loves somebody else” is a common motif, as well as the nature of friendship and how it changes as kids get older. It makes for some very poignant scenes between Simon and his friends.
What really struck me about this book is that it felt authentic. It wasn’t a syrupy sweet Lifetime Channel made for TV movie nor was it a sensationalistic overwrought YA drama. It’s a book that makes you feel good but never resorts to schmaltz or saccharine. Everyone feels true to high school, with a mix of selfishness, confusion, and distraction so much a part of teen life. The book is infinitely quotable as a result – author Becky Albertalli gets it all perfect.
Although yes, Simon’s romantic interest is another guy, the gay subtext is not the point of the book. Blue could have been a girl and the book would have been just as compelling. But the hook ups in Simon’s Atlanta town also cross racial lines – making a welcome change from white cheerleaders being the ‘it’ girl for every high school guy. Class, gender, race are not qualifiers or limiters on any part of the story.
The plot never sagged and I didn’t want to put it down once started. Very modern, to the moment, authentic, and incredibly sweet without being false. I easily rate this a 5 star read – one of the most enjoyable I’ve encountered this year. Highly recommended. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.