Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.
4.75 stars, rounded to 5
‘The love child of John Green and Rainbow Rowell’. That’s the quote from Teen Vogue that graces the front cover of this book. While YA contemporaries are rather hit-and-miss with me, I have had a history of adoring books by both of the aforementioned authors, so combining that with the rave reviews I have heard, I was convinced to give ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda‘ a shot, and I am really glad I did; while I was hoping for good things from it, I was not expecting it to become a new favourite of mine, but it has! Cute, funny, exciting and even a bit mysterious, this book has the hallmark of a fantastic young adult contemporary, and coming from someone who is very, very picky when it comes to young adult contemporaries, and is not usually won over by cutesy romance, it is evident that this book seriously impressed me.
*Spoilers further down – will be marked*
If you didn’t already know, this book has LGBT+ characters and relationships at the forefront, which is what draws many people to this book: our protagonist, Simon, is secretly gay and worrying about the prospect of being outed to his classmates, whilst embarking on an internet romance with a boy who attends his school… only neither is aware of the other’s true identity. I have been searching for a long time for books that do justice to LGBT+ characters and relationships, as it is something that, while getting more and more recognition and focus, is still missing from a large selection of books. This may just be one of the – if not the – best handling of a gay relationship I have read in YA literature: while LGBT+ is central to the novel, there is no tokenism. It is not put on a pedestal, nor are the LGBT+ relationships and characters approached or written any differently to a heterosexual character/relationship. What we have is not just a good LGBT+ coming-of-age romance, it is simply a good coming-of-age romance.
Our protagonist, Simon, is overall an entertaining character to follow, although not without flaws – making him all the more relatable! Initially, he is far too embroiled in his own issues to think about other people’s, and he meddles more than he probably should do in the love lives of his friends, but ultimately he is very easy to sympathise with. He represents how so many sixteen-year-olds feel, from his ‘Harry Potter’ references – dressing up as a dementor for Halloween! – to his fear of his secrets being exposed to his classmates online, all the way to his painfully recognisable response to social situations: baffled by alcohol and wanting to go home the entire way through a house party (the song ‘Here’ by Alessia Cara, which has been stuck in my head for a while, felt very apt here). Readers are under no illusion that Simon is anything but a confused teenager trying to work out where he wants to be at this stage in his life, as evident in everything from his many mistakes to his fickle description of nearly every guy as in some way attractive, and anyone who felt those confused teenage emotions when they were sixteen (or perhaps is feeling them now) will have something in common with Simon, and if not with him, with one of his friends. Nick is a fool to his emotions, Abby is struggling with a difficult personal life and an unexpected move, Leah falls foul to unrequited love and jealousy, while Martin makes choices he hugely regrets. These are all flawed characters, and that is what makes them so real.
This book tackles social issues and perception head-on. Obviously given its LGBT+ representation, a lot of these social issues stem from perceptions of homosexuality – Simon and his online friend Blue discuss at length the issues they have faced due to their closeted sexuality, and once Simon’s sexuality becomes known to his classmates, there is some pretty horrific homophobia directed towards him. This book does not shy away from homophobia as a social issue. It does not ignore the fact that it is a problem for many LGBT+ youths, nor does it try to cushion the blow or downsize the extent; the book is straight to the point about how ugly homophobia can be. What it also does is tackle it. In Simon’s teacher, we see an adult authority figure seething at the homophobia, and desperate to tackle it and punish those involved in inflicting it, reiterating how it is not acceptable. While showing readers the brutal truth of homophobia, it also instils good, strong figures determined to combat it. It doesn’t do things by halves, by showing the issue and not tackling it, or by not representing the issue at all in the hope of wrapping the reader in cotton wool – this book makes the readers aware of some of the horrors of our society and handles them in a way that shows us how we should address these horrors should we face them. Not only does the novel touch on homophobia, but it does address racism to an extent as well, when Blue questions why ‘straight and white’ is the norm. In addressing that issue, it once again combats it in Abby, a strong, beautiful woman of colour who is seen as a desirable and pleasant person. The book actually takes a good 30 pages after her introduction to mention that Abby is black, rather than it being mentioned in a physical description earlier on, therefore not allowing notions of race to impact on anyone’s opinion of her and allowing for her to be described as attractive beforehand, as well as proving that her race does not define her as a person in any way. This should be the standard, of course, but it unfortunately is not, so noticing it here is very satisfying.
I love a good mystery, and the mystery here comes from the identity of Simon’s email friend, Blue. What I love is that this book had me guessing constantly as to who Blue could be; every time we meet a male character from Simon’s school, I was scrutinising them to see if they could fit. This was helpful as it meant I paid so much more attention to all of the characters! We have the obvious suspects, the outside chances, the curve balls… all the makings of a good whodunnit in the form of a romance, which appealed so much to my personal taste. I did have a horrible moment where I wondered if it was all a hoax or a horrible grooming thing – you all know the dangers of online relationships – but rest assured if you were worried that this would be a horrible twist in the tail, we are not dealing with anything that sinister. The relationship between Simon and Blue, even through emails and without knowing Blue’s identity, is incredibly cute. I adored their conversations, with the flirting and innuendoes interspersed with really heartbreaking confessions and touching moments. It made me all the more excited to see if real-life Blue was as good a fit for Simon as his virtual persona seemed to be.
I was writing down clues to Blue’s identity in my reviews notebook as I read, to see if I could work it out. Initially, I had five names as a starting point: Nick, Martin, Cal, Garrett and Bram, and I was so desperate not to be disappointed. Cal was always the obvious choice, and while I did feel a bit of chemistry between him and Simon, I felt bad for doing so, as he was so obviously not going to be Blue! After jumping that hurdle, I became certain that Bram was Blue, and I was so desperate to be right. There were subtle clues after all: Blue references not just that ‘straight’ shouldn’t be the norm over homosexual, but that “white for that matter” also shouldn’t be seen as the norm either – this stuck in my head that Blue was not white, and at this stage, Bram was the only one of the boys we knew not to be white. We also had the scene with Bram’s top-marks English paper, which obviously linked to Blue being very well-spoken (or well-typed, I suppose). After the obligatory curve ball of Simon thinking Bram fancied Leah, I was so glad to be proved right when Blue was revealed to be Bram after all! Despite all the little clues, we could never be certain, as the necessary information required to piece together Blue’s username (his full name and his birthday) are kept from us until the reveal – although Simon knew, and really should’ve guessed! The reveal itself was executed brilliantly, and I cannot deny that the scene between Simon and Bram on the ride is one of my favourite moments I have read this year so far. Thankfully, the pair have as much chemistry when faced with each other as they did online.
The only slight thing I did not like was the bitch-fight dynamic between Abby and Leah. For the most part, the friendships in this book are brilliant, but the weak link is the feud between Abby and Leah over Nick. While painfully rather realistic, I was not comfortable with how much of a cow Leah was, nor did I really like Abby and Nick’s lack of subtlety. Leah’s performance at the talent show could be construed as an attempt to try to out-do Abby, and this story was the only one with a major loose end – do the pair’s feelings towards each other actually shift at the end? I would have liked to see them properly make up.
Ultimately, this book will make you feel. It will make you feel happy, sad, confused, shocked. You will squeal with joy and maybe cry with pain. This book was so much fun that I never expected of it, and I can envisage seeing it on my list of top books at the end of the year.