Author: Becky Albertalli
Genre: Teen, Contemporary Fiction, LGBTQ
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
I know, you are dumbfounded by my 3 star rating when the whole world seems to love this book. Don't worry I will explain and if you still don't see where I'm coming from that's okay! :)
There are three major things I want to discuss:
1) How I may be too old for this teen book
2) That it's the happiest contemporary book ever
3) Why everyone loves it so much (and it probably is 5-stars for them); just not for me
1) Am I too old?
I knew it would happen eventually... there would be a time when I was just too old to really appreciate a teen book. This will happen to everyone at some point and I told myself years ago that when it did happen I would admit it. So here I am admitting that I think it finally happened.
I turned 35 this year and up until now I could always see where a book was coming from, why a person of a certain age might like it, etc. Having read teen books since I was about 10 (my parents gave up and let me read them young-ish because I had run out of other stuff to read and be challenged by), I've read a lot of teen books over the last 25 years. Recently I have loved Scythe, Cinder, Timekeeper, The Last Namsara and greatly enjoyed On the Spectrum, Queens of Geek, Gathering Frost, etc. So I'm totally lost to teen fiction yet (and hope I never am)!
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens is a different kind of contemporary teen fiction than most (even from Queens of Geek or Geekerella). It is truly the day to day thoughts and life of a teen boy coming out to his realm of the world. Now I get that this is hugely significant to anyone at this age (I am bi myself and did sort of come out at one time in high school) and that social media, smartphones, etc. has changed the world since I was a kid. However there is a place in time in which a book just feels dumbed down. As though Becky Albertalli felt if she didn't explicitly express every single emotion Simon felt that we might miss something. That each and every email was hugely significant between Blue and Simon; and I found myself rolling my eyes and scoffing a lot while reading this story. It just felt so immature for teens.
And yes maybe that is the truth of the world for teens these days, and yes I also really hate John Green and his overly philosophical 'grown-up' characters; but there is a middle ground and I think Albertalli missed it here and went too simple at the end of the day.
2) The Happiest Contemporary Book Ever
It's a nice change to read a book where things (mostly) work out well for everyone. Where the family is supportive, caring and the friends are still all (mostly) friends at the end of the story. Truly I enjoyed how happy the story was in general.
Is it really true that Simon would only have anxiety about certain items, like coming out, for a couple of days? Would Blue and Simon have really clicked by email alone?
I feel like there is a lack of realism here. Not only that at least one person is likely to be a giant jerk about things and not be apologetic; but also that Simon and Blue bonded so completely without actually knowing who each other are.
Now, maybe we go back to point number one here; which is that I am too old to understand current communication options. I will concede that may be the case; but I'll also say that my siblings live in a different city from me and we still make sure to Skype with videos so that we feel like we aren't just 'texting' or having a side conversation all the time. There is something just different about a vocal conversation than a written one to me and I felt that the significance of this difference was really down-played in order to make everything seem perfect for the whole book.
3) Why everyone loves it so much
I'm truly happy that this book has had such an effect on so many people, especially gay teens. That is far more important than my personal opinion on it. I felt similar about Twilight years ago; while I hated Twilight I can't deny that it brought a new generation to reading (including my own niece) and so I totally respect it was important to a generation and I can easily respect Simon and his story are important to the existing generation.
BUT... (see a theme here)
Does everyone love it because it's a positive book in a sea of despair these days? Most contemporary books are heavily focused on some pretty depressing and huge, hard to tackle issues (The Hate U Give for example). And so by addressing a smaller issue, the idea of one or two boys coming out in high school, does it feel that much more manageable and easier?
Don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic that this is the case. 25 years ago you just didn't come out, period. Or if you did you were a very tough and brave person (and I don't mean just because you were socially connected; I mean you were prepared to get beat-up and pushed around).
So if everyone loves it just because it's happy then maybe a hard look needs to be had at reading being about not only issues for teens but enjoyment of stories as well. Perhaps a lot of writers are missing what Becky Albertalli found; an inspiring and joyful story for people to be immersed in. Definitely worth a thought in our fearful, seemingly non-stop hateful environment these days.
It's clear this is was not a book for my generation. And I'm okay with that. But it doesn't mean I will give it 5 stars because everyone else did. I didn't think this was the best coming out, teen turning point book I've ever read. While contemporaries are not my fave books in general I have read better ones. And contemporary stories where things feel a little more real and a little less 'glossy'. Ironically the gloss and happiness of this story will translate well to the silver screen and so the movie is likely to be very popular.
BUT... I again appreciate the love for this book by others. It just won't be on my personal permanent shelf. However it will be on my recommendations list to teens or parents struggling with sexual identity in any way; and I certainly wouldn't ever dissuade anyone from reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens.
I'm currently content to say I read it but felt too cynical and old for it at the end of the day.