Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens AgendaWhen Simon’s classmate, Martin, finds some of Simon’s personal emails to the mysterious and attractive Blue, he makes a deal with Simon: Simon can help Martin hook up with his friend Abby, or Martin tells the entire school about Simon and Blue. Oh, and Blue’s also a boy, and this is Georgia. So it’s not really a deal, it’s blackmail. What follows is Simon’s attempts to balance protecting himself, protecting Blue, and not totally throwing Abby under the bus, with plenty of awkward teen moments thrown in.

Simon is the kind of narrator I just can’t help but love. He’s sarcastic and nerdy, making jokes about The Smiths and Harry Potter, and panicking about being accidentally racist towards his black friend. He’s earnest and geeky and he tries so hard and still messes up; in short, he’s like most teenagers.

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda was funny, in a way I wouldn’t have expected of a coming out story. Sometimes it’s because Simon genuinely makes a funny joke, but other times it’s the sort of self-conscious humour that comes from having made the same mistakes he has. Albertalli walks the fine line between laughing at Simon and laughing with him, because we’ve all been there, but never crosses over into laughing at him.

There are serious notes to the book, too, though, moments that are touching or heartwrenching, and Albertalli deals with these with the weight they deserve, though Simon’s wry narrative voice shines through. After all, the book is essentially about a boy being bullied because he’s gay, and Albertalli does an excellent job of showing the effects on Simon and his relationships while also maintaining Simon’s characteristic humour. Take, for instance, the opening line of the book:

It’s a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don’t notice I’m being blackmailed.

Throughout the somewhat surreal conversation in which Martin tells Simon he knows about Blue, and won’t tell anyone about Blue as long as Simon sets him up with Abby, as though Abby has no real choice in the matter, Simon continues making snarky remarks in the narrative. The end result is a novel that deals with serious issues, but in a way that makes you laugh rather than cry.

I say the book deals with serious issues, and it’s not just bullying and homophobia. It also addresses the wider issues with making default assumptions about people. Simon and Blue bemoan how everyone assumes they’re straight simply because they haven’t made a declaration one way or the other, and straight people should have to awkwardly come out to their friends and family, too. Again, it’s done with humour, but it highlights the very real problems with assuming people are straight. Similarly, Simon tells himself off for making default-white assumptions later:

White shouldn’t be the default any more than straight should be the default. There shouldn’t even be a default.

All in all, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is superficially a funny, light-hearted read. It’s something you can read on a Saturday afternoon and laugh yourself to pieces, but you come away not just invigorated from the humour but thoughtful about the problems with the default-straight assumptions and heteronormativity. It’s a fantastic read for anyone looking for a fun beach read or seeking something different from the usual male/female romances found in YA. Basically, you should read it.

Nicola is an English Lit graduate living in Edinburgh. She’s passionate about books by and about women, neither of which she got nearly enough of during her degree. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, and her blog.

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