Coming out, coming of age
by One-Minute Book Reviews: Laura Stevenson
Jun 23, 2016 | 3072 views | 0 0 comments | 131 131 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, Balzer and Bray, 2015

Simon Spier is involved in an anonymous email correspondence with a guy code-named Blue. The two go to the same Atlanta high school, but that’s all they know about each others identities. Increasingly, however, they learn a lot about each others inner thoughts and desires – including that, unknown to their friends and parents, they are both gay. As the reader-over-their-shoulders watches, the emails become flirtatious, then serious as they realize what they are coming to mean to each other, and what that means for each of them.

For Simon, one of the things it means is blackmail. The class clown, Martin, takes a screen shot of one of their emails and threatens to share it with the whole school if Simon doesn’t fix him up with Abby, the bright, talented dancer who is gradually falling for Simon’s friend Nick. But Nick and Simon share their friendship with Leah, who secretly loves Nick …. Sound confusing? Just ask conservative Simon, who has to deal not only with that but with the possible reaction of his family, which is theoretically liberal, but whose “togetherness” mystique tends to suffocate Simon and his sisters, each trying to find their individual ways. And there’s another problem: Blue has figured out who Simon is, but Simon can’t figure out who Blue is. What is he missing?

This charming book, which has received the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Debut Award and is short-listed for several others, including the Green Mountain Book Award, deserves the attention it has been getting. Simon’s voice is spot-on, possibly as a result of Albertalli’s years as a clinical psychologist and co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming kids in Washington, DC.

The characters are realistic in a way the denizens of high school realism seldom are. With the notable exception of a few gay-bashers, they are all lovable, supportive, and talented. It all makes for a delightful read, and one that quietly asserts that, as Blue puts it, “It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit into that mold.” For the two guys and their friends, as for their creator, changing that view of things is the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Laura Stevenson lives in Wilmington and her most recent novels, “Return in Kind” and “Liar from Vermont,” are both set on Boyd Hill Road.

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