Every now and again I take a break from my usual fantasy fare and dip into something contemporary. Usually, I’m not a fan of high school stories — while I was in school, I figured I spent enough of my life in school not to want to read about it when I wasn’t, and now that I’ve left, I have little desire to spend too long recalling it!
That said, there are some really great contemporaries out there, and it can be a good place to find books about LGBTQ+ characters which deal with real-world issues. The only problem is that a lot of those are exceedingly depressing.
This one isn’t.
Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda is an utterly adorable story about a gay teenager (called Simon, unsurprisingly) gradually falling in love with somebody he knows only through email. Oh, and he’s being blackmailed by a classmate who knows he’s gay, which is just making the whole thing a lot more complicated.
Simon has his fair share of challenges to face: school itself is bad enough, without worrying about coming out, being outed against your will, trying to set up an enemy with a friend, and all the fears and joys of a first relationship. That doesn’t mean it’s a depressing book, though. It’s really, really not.
In fact, by the time the book was over, I couldn’t stop grinning. It was honestly so cute.
In some ways, I guess you could call it an ‘issue’ book, because it does very much focus on Simon being gay. If he weren’t, the story wouldn’t really exist. The blackmail wouldn’t work, and the secret relationship and slow build of his affection for ‘Blue’ would be far less interesting. That said, the characters all have personality outside of the role they play in the story, giving it depth and originality.
Simon is into theatre, which some people would dismiss as a gay stereotype. But as someone with a predominantly queer friendship group, and who spent a lot of them involved in musical productions at school, the truth is that there are quite a lot of gay teenagers who are into theatre, so it’s realistic. Instead of compensating to avoid being called cliche, Albertalli confidently handles Simon’s character and gives him plenty of depth, so that no one can call him two-dimensional.
While I was reading this I had family visiting, and my cousin asked me how it can be possible to fall in love with someone by email. Though I’m not exactly an expert on romance, being largely disinterested in the whole thing, I made a lot of my closest friends online. Some of them I eventually met; others, I’ve never seen. But I still feel like I know them and, while in my case it’s generally platonic affection, I love them too.
So it was nice to see that represented in a book, and it also meant that it avoided one aspect of teenage relationships which is always overdone in YA: ‘love at first sight’, and the emphasis on lust. Simon falls in love with his correspondent’s personality, way of speaking, approach to life — not his appearance. And that I found extremely refreshing.
Besides, did I mention that this book is ADORABLE? So adorable. Like, seriously cute. I was grinning throughout the last couple of chapters. There were a few moments where things didn’t go as well, of course, and they brought with them the familiar pangs of concern for a fictional character (which I feel way too often), but on the whole, it made me happier than a lot of the books I’ve read in the past year.
Oh, and there’s also plenty of humour. Simon’s a bit of a dork, frankly, and his teenage experience matches mine a whole lot more than the horror stories about underage drinking and clubbing:
“I take a sip of my beer, and it’s – I mean, it’s just astonishingly disgusting. I don’t think I was expecting it to taste like ice cream, but holy f*cking hell. People lie and get fake IDs and sneak into bars, and for this? I honestly think I’d rather make out with Bieber. The dog. Or Justin.”
Same, Simon, same. Not that I can drink beer, on account of it containing gluten, but whatever. Alcohol is not my thing.
I don’t know how else to articulate my thoughts on this book, but basically it’s an adorable, funny, realistic story about a gay teenager trying to get through high school, and his incredibly cute relationship with somebody who is at least partly a construct of his own mind (until near the end of the book) and it’s just
So, so cute.
I’m giving it four stars: I’d recommend it to anyone who likes LGBTQ+ books, anyone who likes adorable things, and anyone who likes contemporary. Which I guess is a pretty broad audience. Wahey.