Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda": A new spin on YA romance

We all keep secrets.

In high school, those who we had the biggest crushes on rarely knew our true feelings.  I remember staring at that back of one my crushes in my AP English course every single day knowing that I would die of embarrassment if he ever found out.

In Becky Albertalli's debut novel, 'Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda' she deals with the coming of age / coming out / first love story of Simon Spiers, a 16 year old, whose secret email correspondence with the mysterious Blue is about to blown wide open by Martin, a class clown who blackmails Simon to help him get closer to Simon's friend, Abby.  Martin stumbles upon Simon's open email to Blue in the school library and takes a screenshot of it explaining to Simon that he truly believes most people would be totally cool with him being gay at the same time he tells Simon that if he doesn't help him with Abby, he'd share the email with others.

That's just not cool.

So Simon sweats it.

He worries about Blue who wants his identity to be concealed.  He worries about how his totally heterosexual 'Bachelor' addicted family will take the news if they find out he is gay. He worries about his friend Abby and how he will actually get her to even notice the goofy and annoying Martin.  He's always just worrying about something because when we have our secrets that we don't want others to know, it makes us worry when we think they might find out the truth.

Albertalli does a great job of creating lovable characters that her readers adore and want to protect.  Her years as a clinical psychologist helped her get inside their heads and create believable email correspondences as well as believable high school drama (and we aren't just talking about Simon's role in his high school's theater production of Oliver).  There's friend drama and love drama beyond Simon and Blue, but the sweetest moments of this book come in the form of Blue and Simon's growing email flirtation and Blue's concealed identity.

In their emails they discuss family and friends as well as the burden of coming out.  "Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn't be this big awkward thing whether you're straight, gay, bi or whatever.  I'm just saying." It's true.  It's hard enough to deal with being in love and revealing your vulnerability to another or your family when you are straight, but adding the extra pressure of society's perception is almost soul crushing.

In the twists and turns of this novel, Albertalli tries to keep it real.  And it feels mostly real until the truth comes out and then all the sudden things feel too easy like the wrap up at the end of Family Ties. Maybe I am cynical after teaching high school for so long, but not everyone would be so excepting of homosexuality and those who chose to voice their distaste would not be dealt with so swiftly.  Don't get me wrong, we've come so far even in the last 5 years, but there are still a bunch of close minded individuals who are under the guise that their religion tells them that homosexuality is wrong who have plenty of support for their beliefs, too.

I'm glad, though, that love in this novel, prevails vs. ignorance. I'm glad that Simon doesn't succumb to the few haters.  I'm glad that all the friends stay friends and that Simon's family is as awesome as they are.

I needed a fun, quirky, nerdy love story to restore my faith in homo sapiens everywhere, and that is just what 'Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda' does.

Becky Albertalli has a long and beautiful writing career ahead of her with many devoted fans who are eagerly awaiting another novel.  And that's no secret.

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