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

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

A trio of amateur heroines battle an evil, lawsuit-happy science-fiction cult in the first novel in the Neitherlands series.

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

Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda cover art

Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda
by Becky Albertalli
March 25, 2015
Review rating 5/5

I want a copy of that agenda.

Seriously. This last week has been quite the trip, and the first time in a long while where every waking moment I spent not reading I spent it thinking about reading. For you see, Becky Albertalli made me fall in love with her novel, her characters, and her setting.

I expected I would like this book. I’m a sucker for YA fiction, although I hadn’t read any non-fantasy YA books since Paper Towns about three years ago because I hate myself like that. But I guess good things come for those who wait, because after that time I got a novel that captured me so much I wished it would never be over. Which is a huge feat, considering recapturing the magic that made you fall in love with books grows ever more difficult the more you read.

A story as old as time.

Now, into the novel: We have a YA slice-of-life/coming-of-age story. Plain and simple. Gay-but-not-out Simon has a pen pal he emails with regularly. Said pen pal is the only person who knows he’s gay, although he also doesn’t know he’s Simon as they keep their identities secret. After leaving his email session open at the library, a classmate finds out and proceeds to blackmail him. That’s it. Even the blackmail isn’t the worst kind of blackmail there is, even when it is shitty because, well, blackmail.

It’s not a unique story. It’s not groundbreaking or out of the ordinary, and it’s nowhere near John Green’s fare of teenagers doing decidedly un-teenager-like things. And that’s why it works so well: These characters feel natural. Their setting feels natural, and their way of speaking and acting feels natural. The core that makes Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda so impressive is just how ordinary it is. These are normal teenagers leading normal lives, and it works. It just does. It’s funny, it’s interesting, it’s hilarious, but most of all…

This book is absurdly full of joy.

That’s probably its biggest achievement. While I went through a whole spectrum of emotions reading this, the one that always prevailed was joy. Even in the most dramatic moments (which weren’t all that dramatic, particularly reading them as an adult) the book manages to keep a smile on your face at all times. It is just that kind of book – one of those novels that manage to keep you interested and happy at all times because you know things will work out just fine in the end.

There isn’t much more I can say about this. The storyline is ordinary, and it ends exactly as one would expect it to. There are no weird plot twist, no hidden meanings, and certainly, no pretense of writing something really deep that will change the world. Albertalli isn’t reinventing the wheel here, nor does she ever set out to. But a simple thing masterfully crafted is often better than a poorly executed ultra-complex work, and that shows here. Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda isn’t a book to change the world, nor does it try to, and it doesn’t need to. What it excels at is simply showing a kind, quite joyful side of it and a world the reader can easily get lost in.

It took me back…

I’ll close this by telling a story of my own about why I loved this book so much. The first time I recall stating in all seriousness that I wanted to be I writer I was thirteen. I remember I was at school, particularly bored during a history of the arts class and looking through the window at the street outside, wishing noon would arrive faster. Back in those days, I was reading this somewhat obscure series called Harry Potter. Those books were my hiding place from a world I couldn’t understand that changed too much, too fast, and always unexpectedly. Whenever I had a free moment, I’d whisk away to Hogwarts, where things always remained more or less the same and where there was always an adventure to be had. A place where people who were different not only could exist in harmony, but where they were expected to.

As a teenager with undiagnosed ASD among other things, that place meant the world to me. And it was that feeling those books gave me what made me want to become a writer, as I hoped to someday make somebody else feel just as I did back then. Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda gave me back that feeling. It made me remember exactly why I’m a writer, and why I wanted to be one in the first place. And just for that, no matter how much I recommend this novel it will never be enough.

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