Young and Gay in America

16-year-old Simon Spier is very, very, very gay, and only two people know. Him and his mysterious pen pal, Blue. Simon desperately wants to find Blue, but only knows that they attend the same school. However, Simon’s guarded secret is in danger of falling apart when Martin, the seemingly innocent class clown, discovers the correspondence. Threatening to reveal Simon’s secret unless he helps set him up with Abby- the girl who everyone and their mom wants to get with (oh yeah, she’s also one of Simon’s best friends), Simon is torn. Does he let himself be manipulated or risk being forcibly exposed?

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is in short, the cutest book I read over summer (and will probably reread over the holiday season, because A. Why the heck not? B. The majority of it takes place from October to about January which means it qualifies as a holiday book, right?) Let me open up by saying that this book genuinely made me happy. Especially because I read a less than recommendable book prior to this, Simon made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  It seems that books with characters named Blue are always great (cough, cough The Raven Boys cough, cough)- I ate this book up. Simon was such a relatable character, and I was consistently on the edge of my seat, anxious to see what would happen. Don’t be fooled by this book’s short length, we’re granted tons of well-developed characters along with foils and plot twists. The dynamic between friends as well as their own problems and stories is part of what makes Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda one of the most relatable YA novels set in a high school (especially if you’re a theater geek like Simon, you’ll get a whole other level of appreciation for what the high school theater world looks like). Rather than it feeling like an adult trying to understand what high school is like now, versus a decade ago, Becky Albertalli consistently hits home.

There are so many things I could gush about, but for the sake of spoilers, I’ll keep it to a minimum. I get really excited when I see books with tons of diversity and Becky Albertalli definitely gets a gold star for that. Other commendable things: I laughed out loud so many times - like snort laughter - and I’m not one for outward emotion during books, but I just couldn’t contain myself! There are so many pop culture references and it all ties in beautifully. Simon’s nerdy family, we all may be just a teensy bit embarrassed but there was something so cute about the complete nerdiness of the family that you can’t help but feel a tad jealous. Rather than shy away from his family being total dorks, Simon completely embraced it and it added just one more fresh level. Another thing that I really enjoyed was the split storytelling from Simon’s voice, and then from the emails between the two boys. We’re drawn into the mystery of who Blue is, and by the second or third email thread, you’re rooting for the two of them and you’re up the wall, frustrated about why the two haven’t met up yet and aren’t going on cute dates that you have always dreamed of. We get little tidbits and hints of who Blue is as a person, and rather than basic everyday things, we learn more intimate, best friend type of information (like Blue is Jewish-Episcopalian), making us feel like we’re part of the secret friendship/crush-hood between the two.  While the book may not have classified as an ‘own voice’ novel, it was still completely down to earth and relatable helping normalize the idea of LGBT relationships and being a young member of the community. Personally, I am so pumped for the spring release of the film adaptation as well as a sequel told from one of his best friend’s perspective. Thank you Becky for the Simonverse!

-Nika, (Dusen)Berry Blogger and member of the River Teen Advisory Board