Thursday, March 31, 2016

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I've passed by the bright red cover of Becky Albertalli's Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda several times while at Canadian bookstore Chapters, but didn't pick it up until now. I really regret not reading it until almost a year after it's April 2015 publication.

Protagonist Simon Spier begins the book by observing, "It's a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don't notice I'm being blackmailed." The blackmailer in question is Martin Addison "a little bit of a goobery nerd, to be honest," who logs into Gmail after Simon vacates the library computer. Unfortunately, Simon has left himself logged in to his secret email account, the one he is using to email Blue, a gay teenager at his high school. Neither has shared their real identity with the other and the emails provide a place for them both to communicate about their experience. 

Martin takes a screenshot of the emails and threatens to post them to the school's Tumblr, The creeksecrets: "ground zero for Creekwood High School gossip." Simon is not openly gay, and if Martin shares the emails on creek secrets, the school will know immediately. And there's also the fact that Blue will be involved, a relationship Simon doesn't want to jeopardize. 

Simon's narrative voice is so compelling. He's a keen observer. The book bounces back and forth between Simon's narration and the emails he and Blue are sending back and forth to one another, providing readers with "first impression" observations, and also those that are more carefully curated in order to send to Blue. High school drama plays also plays a role, since Simon (and Martin) are involved in the school's production of Oliver! (a play that Jon van de Ruit's Spud also took up). During an early showing of the play to the high school classes, Albertalli's writing becomes so evocative of the high school experience and atmosphere. Her description of a teacher trying to lecture an auditorium filled with high school students took me right back to that experience:
There's this drone of quiet conversation and denim rustling against seats. Someone shrieks with laughter, and someone else yells, "QUIET!" So then a bunch of people start giggling.
"I'll wait," Ms. Albright says. And when the laughter dies down, she holds up the notebook. "Does anyone recognize this?"
"Your diary?" Some asshole sophomore.
Ms. Albright ignores him. "This is the Creekwood handbook, which you should have read and signed at the beginning of the year."
Everyone immediately stops listening. God. It's got to freaking suck to be a teacher. 
As a reader, I was so invested in finding out Blue's real name alongside Simon, but throughout the process, Simon's sense of finding himself takes precedence. Simon's family is just as interesting, and their balance of being both supportive and also over-interested in Simon's life is a strong addition to the novel. 

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda was such a fantastic novel, and after finishing it, I found a December news article reporting Fox 2000 acquired the rights for a movie adaptation. Simon's compelling observations and wry narrative voice aren't quite over with the end of the book, and I'm looking forward to seeing this novel adapted into a visual format. 

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