This review got a little bit away from me and ended up being way longer than I had anticipated, feel free to skip to the My Review part of this post to read my thoughts on the book. Also, I think this is the first time that I do not include the Authors name in the post title and that was merely because it was a really long title. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda was written by Becky Albertalli for anyone wondering.
Simon has been keeping all kind of secrets. Perhaps the biggest is that he’s gay, which falls adjacent to how he secretly feels lonely even though he’s surrounded by good friends. That’s where Blue comes in. Blue seems to be the only other gay guy at Creekwood High and Simon is slowly falling in love with him, there’s only one problem. Blue isn’t his real name, and Simon has no idea which one of his classmates he’s been messaging with. Worse still, his private emails with Blue fell into the wrong hands. In exchange for silence, not-so-popular Martin Addison asks Simon to help him get close with Abby Suso, very-popular-girl and one of Simons close friends. Can Simon find a solution where his friends don’t get mad at him, his emails aren’t posted to the schools gossip blog, and he is able to figure out who Blue really is?
With a little help from audiobook I was able to finish the Rewind Book Club’s pick for April, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, just as the month came to a close. (I literally finished it on April 30th).
Real quick, The Rewind Book Club was started by Elise who runs a small booktube channel, The Petite Punk. Basically it is a book club for all of us who needed an excuse to re-read (or read for the first time) YA fiction from like 2005 and onward. If that is something you are interested in, you can find all the details in the announcement video for the club (here). And, you can always keep up with the club on Twitter, which is what I do. There’s a live show discussion for each book towards the end of the month. It’s a lot of fun to tune into, so yeah just throwing that out there for anyone intrested.
Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is the second book the club has read together since it is a relatively new club, perfect time to join if you ask me.
Before my review of the actual content of the book, I want to say that this was not one of the books I was nostalgic for. So when it was announced as the pick I wasn’t excited to read it but I was open to giving it a chance. Part of it was also that this book felt like it was past my time. With the movie coming out not that long ago, I don’t know, it just felt like too recent a book to be a throwback… for me.
After looking into it, I did learn that the book was originally published in 2015, so technically it is a throwback. Still though, I don’t consider it a book I grew up with. The fact that this book came out like after I had graduated High School is what made it feel like it was YA fiction that was passed my time. I would definitely group it with more recent YA books, not so much with like, say Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, Marked, which were the popular YA books when I was in middle school and High school.
First and foremost, I did not like the writing style. It is perhaps my biggest issue with Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda.
Mainly, I feel that the narration was written in the “tell” as opposed to “show” technique. Which, if you’ve been in the reading/writing circles long enough you’ve probably heard it about a million times: when writing, you want to show not tell. It’s essentially a way to put the reader in the moment with the character, make them connect and relate to the character a little more deeply. Definitely, some of those emotional and hard-hitting scenes could have benefited from having a little more show as opposed to tell.
Another thing I was not a big fan of stylistically was the authors choice to use swear words in the character dialogue. Very few books can get away with this while still having the writing sound polished and natural; Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is not one of them.
It just doesn’t work. And, it didn’t really make the characters anymore likable or relatable, which is what the author was going for it feels.
Expanding a little on that, the book is also just chock-full of like 2010s’ pop culture references. And, I have the same problem with this that I have with the swearing. It’s overdone and a very obvious attempt to appeal to the younger audience.
I understand that a YA book is supposed to do that but the way the author goes about it is very much an adults interpretation of how they think teens behave. It is not entirely convincing and to me it just felt like I was constantly being reminded that the characters are young. Given that this is a YA novel, this is something I and every other reader already knows, so it’s not an idea that had to be pushed as hard as it was.
I joked about it to my boyfriend — who is nice enough to listen to all of my book rants — that it seems like the author looked up “edgy teens” online and then just dumped all of the search results into the elements of the book.
And look, I myself absolutely love seeing when fictional characters enjoy the same things I do, such as books, music, shows, hobbies, etc. But, there are ways to appeal to readers without being so obvious about it. There is a certain appeal to obscurity, to referencing something instead of outright naming it. It’s just one of those things where less is definitely more, in my opinion.
Getting into the actual content of the book. I kept coming back to one thing.
I wish the author would have just committed to making the blackmailer be a bad person. Towards the end of the book, she gives him this whole sob story that is supposed to excuse his behavior and that just didn’t feel right. Or it could have been handled better.
In one particular scene, Martin (the blackmailer) meets Simon in the parking lot with the intention of apologizing to him for everything that has happened. He tries to explain why he did what he did. Simon doesn’t take the apology well and goes off on Martin, making him cry. Still very angry, Simon just walks away from him.
The way this scene plays out really minimizes what Martin did to Simon, what he put him through. Not only that, but it paints Simon in a very negative light. Almost like he’s the asshole for not accepting the sincere apology of the crying boy. This shift in the character dynamics makes Martin out to be the victim in the situation and that’s not fair to Simon — especially after all of the things he has to go through being outed the way that he was.
I honestly have no sympathy for the Martin character. Can’t say I understand his sob story and I don’t think that it was necessary to give him one. It really felt like the author sacrificed Simon to give Martin a redemption and that wouldn’t have happened if she’d just committed to making Martin a morally bad person.
Writing the things I like about the book portion of this review turned out to be incredibly hard for me. Not because I thought the book was terrible or anything like that. It was more like, when it came to my critique of the book there was a lot of specific things that I had a lot to say about. When it came to what I did like, it was more just in general.
For example, I really enjoyed the overall love story. I’m not a big fan of romance so I can’t speak much on tropes or other elements of the romance genre, but in general the love story was really nice and fun to read.
Going in, I thought that I could guess Blue’s identity very easily but I was genuinely surprised by who it was in the end. It pretty much kept me guessing until the big reveal and I liked that a lot.
Through out the story, I found that I was really rooting for Simon and Blue to have a happy ending. I think any romance book that makes you root for the couple to end up together has done it’s job right.
And, for all its little faults here and there, I still think Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a good slice of life portrait of the high school experience. It wasn’t mainly about the popular kids getting into some sort of trouble or like football games and all that. Yes, to some extent it did have some of that, but it was never the main focus. I like that the characters were a mix match of popular kids and theater kids, and how this actually played a role in the relationships of the group. It just felt like there was a range of character types as well as multiple layers to certain characters.
Lastly, I really liked when Simon got to say his piece. I know I had problems with the overall scene, but I think that moment where Simon just goes off on Martin was so so important. From the beginning we see Martin make light of what he is putting Simon through. So, that moment when Simon tells Martin what he took away from him and how he’s hurt him by blackmailing him, it felt very powerful for his character. Even more so when he simply walks away from Martin.
People seem to have this idea that if you just apologize it makes things go away, but they don’t just go away. Simon did not have to accept Martin’s apology and I’m glad he didn’t.
I give Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda a two out of five star rating. Despite the low rating, I would still recommend it though. I think books like this offer important perspectives. Perspectives not just about the LGBTQ+ experience but also perspectives on the particular point in time that the book came out.
This book in particular says a lot about YA literature in 2015. The fact that this book was perhaps one of only a handful of books for teens that discussed issues about the LGBTQ+ Community, speaks to what kind of resources were available to LGBTQ+ youth back then.
Being part of the book community now, I see that this is changing and its truly a good thing. Sometimes I think that we really need to look back and reflect on how far we’ve come, that way we continue to move forward instead of moving back.