Book Review: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Author: Becky Albertalli
Genre: Young Adult / Coming-Of-Age
Publisher: Balzer+Bray

Review by Christoph Staffl

Simon is a sixteen-year-old, closeted kid. His best friend is someone, whose name he does not know. They only communicate via e-mail and avoid talking about revealing personal things. Simon’s passion is the drama club. Though he does not have the significant roles, he has friends there and feels safe. One day, someone finds out about the e-mails and blackmails Simon with all the information. This incident is the trigger, and everything seems to fall apart from here on out. Simon’s routines and therefore his life begins to break down – as he fears being revealed to the public.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a heartbreaking story about a teenager and his struggles with life. How do you deal with being bullied, with your coming-out and everything in between? Simon himself tells us the story – from his perspective. This way we get intimate knowledge of what is going on inside of his head. The writer, Becky Albertalli, creates a character who thinks he knows the world, but ultimately understands nothing. If you ever were sixteen years old, you know precisely, what Simon is talking about and can relate to his situation and how he is handling things.

Recently I also read Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun, and even though these two stories could not be more different, the structure is similar as well as the journey of the main characters. In The Naked Sun the main character, Elijah Baley, is confronted with a lot of backlashes. Everything seems to work against him until he decides to accept the challenge. Similar things can be said about Simon. A lot is happening to our main character, and the only thing he can do is react. Until one final moment, the tipping point, if you will, after which, he starts to realize that he can control at least certain aspects of his life. The changes are not fundamental or abrupt, but small and continuous, which makes them even more relatable.

After I finished the book, I read some reviews about it on Amazon. Some or at least one of them seems to be very angry about certain comparisons and statements, made by Simon. Granted, they can be interpreted as controversial, and I can understand where the reviewer is coming from. I think you have to see those statements at what they are because they are not universally true statements from the author. They are statements made by the character(s) in the book. And in context of Simons life, those comparisons seem comprehensible. For me, it is always problematic when people confuse the viewpoints of the protagonists with those of the creator. Those are two separate things. And the things Simons says and writes are his, which is, again, plausible by the way Becky Albertalli writes him.

The Verdict: Read it! Pop culture references, a great cast of different people, and an active character are just three things which are intriguing about Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Every other chapter of the book consists of the e-mails Simon aka Jaques and Blue (his mysterious friend) exchange. Everything Simon is thinking and writing to Blue seems like true statements about his friends and his situation, but a lot is just a result of his fantasy and imagination. This adds to the gravitas of the story. And, by the way, if you think you know who Blue is, I guarantee you are wrong. I didn’t realize it until the very end.

Christoph Staffl

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