Book Review: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Genre: Young Adult, LGBT

Publishing Info: 2018 by Penguin Books (first published in 2015)

Pages: 303

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Simon Spier is sixteen and trying to work out who he is – and what he’s looking for.

But when one of his emails to the very distracting Blue falls into the wrong hands, things get all kinds of complicated.

Because, for Simon, falling for Blue is a big deal . . .

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a hilarious, emotional and relatable roller-coaster that has already made waves in the LGBT community from the novel itself and subsequent movie adaptation.

A few weeks ago I went to the cinema with my friend to see Love, Simon. It was the first LGBT film that I had seen at the cinema. I found it equal parts moving and hilarious and had a narrative in Simon’s coming out story that I could relate to on a level which rarely comes about in a film from a big production company. It challenged me to think about my own experiences as a gay man and how my coming out was perceived by those around me. It was a fairytale portrayal of the ‘coming out’ process, mostly having an optimistic outlook and an ending where Simon found his Blue.

Reading the book after seeing the film adaptation is pretty rare for me; I normally make the effort to digest the source material to understand the nuances and briefly mentioned moments in the narrative. With this book, I can see how faithful the film’s narrative largely is and it is not really a surprise. Albertalli’s writing contains all of the warmth and teenage angst that I was hoping for and this is part of the reason why I think this appealed to many different groups of people. Simon as a character is someone who everyone can see a part of themselves in, even those who aren’t LGBT. I also think that a lot of people, myself included, hope to find their Blue one day and, no matter how idealistic it is represented in the book and film, it speaks to many different people.

I noticed that there are a few minor differences between the book and screen narratives, which have been done to manipulative the audience’s emotions, particularly in the film version. A scene involving Simon being hit on by another gay man in a bar was rightly cut, as frankly I found that section quite uncomfortable to read. That was replaced with another potential Blue that, let’s face it, was only included to be eye candy for viewers. On the other hand, Martin’s unlikeable nature is blown to an almost cartoonist proportion in the film, whereas the book chooses to focus on his actions, which is more realistic, to be perfectly honest. Leah has the biggest transformation and I don’t think it’s necessarily for the best, going from sarcastic and playing drums in a band to quiet and that best friend who is secretly in love with Simon. Overall the book is stronger when it comes down to realism, yet the film, for all its overblown nature, creates a stronger emotional reaction, even if I was grinning when reading most of the last few chapters.

Let’s talk about the respective endings though. The film version, for all of its melodrama and ability to stir audiences’ emotions in the fairground climax, creates a rather troubling hypocritical quality in Simon. He is rightly angry at Martin for outing him to the world, yet is so in love with Blue that he asks him to appear in front of a huge crowd. So Blue in the film has the choice of coming out to the world in one go or make Simon face being humiliated by being rejected so publicly. Although it was great and all when the two found each other, it was hard for me to not think how I would feel in that moment if I had to make that decision.

The book, on the other hand, sees Simon encounter Blue in the fairground when there isn’t many people there and, though this won’t feel as explosive and dramatic to audiences, it makes far more sense given how unsure Blue has been to reveal his identity and come out to everyone. Potentially the book runs the risk of continuing a bit too far after the climax, with a couple of chapters focusing on Simon and Blue becoming an actual couple feeling a bit like an anti-climax. Maybe they could have been done as a prologue. Overall though, it could be said that the film directly aims to get viewers to reach for the tissues, whereas the book feels more organic and relatable as a result.

I did love that the author disclosed all of the emails shared between the pair in the time between the start of their correspondence and the narrative. The subject and tone of these fitted with the book perfectly and it was a clever move to separate the chapters of Simon’s daily life with chapters exclusively filled with emails on mundane topics such as Oreos and childhood accidents. If anything, they made me like Simon’s character even more than in the standard narrative. It also helps to bridge the gap for readers who maybe could not identify with him for being gay; he is just another teenager talking about irrelevant yet relatable topics and his sexuality is just a small part of his character.

I did not think that I would love the source text as much as the film of Love, Simon but I honestly do, if in different ways. Even if it doesn’t pack the emotional punch of the film, the novel makes me think more about my own experiences and creates a world that I can relate to a lot more. I’m really happy that this book made its way into the mainstream, hopefully it can show people Simon’s age who are thinking about their sexuality that they can find their Blue as well.

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