By GARY KNOWLES
I wish I read books like “Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda” when I was a teenager, but I am glad I am reading them now. Over spring break, I was captured by the novel’s emotionally mature way of handling such a difficult topic as coming out of the closet. For young readers unsure of their sexuality and identity, having access to a book like this will be a groundbreaking experience.
This novel by Becky Albertalli recently inspired the movie to be released on Mar. 16 called “Love, Simon.” If the movie holds the least bit true to the book, then it will definitely make an impact on a wide audience.
Albertalli crafts a story for the reader that is equal parts funny, happy and sad. It also makes the reader’s skin crawl from the level of social paranoia the protagonist, Simon, carries around with him.
Simon is a 17 year old high school student that knows he’s gay; but he can only talk about it over a chain of emails with another anonymous gay student, Blue. At least that is until he’s blackmailed after someone discovers Simon’s emails.
The story reads fast, and I’m sure the movie will move in a similar fashion. It doesn’t bog down the reader with complex, creative grammatical structures and vocabulary. Simon’s narration cuts to the point and carries you until the end.
The novel’s matter-of-fact handling of difficult themes such as sexuality, tolerance and even racism in the middle of contemporary Georgia adds to its strength.
I remember being someone like Simon, the awkward teenage boy with something he’s not exactly ashamed of but can’t bring himself to say out loud. Perhaps that seems like it doesn’t matter to people who aren’t gay. But I think the novel offers something to everyone.
The most important thing about Albertalli’s novel, that’s soon to be adapted on the big screen, is the fact that the young men and women who are questioning their sexuality will be able to find a book like this with ease. Due to the book’s popularity, it’s on shelves everywhere, even stores like Walmart and Target.
I can’t emphasize enough how beneficial this easy access is for young people relating to Simon’s experience. Nothing is worse than the isolation that Simon felt in high school. When I was Simon as a teenager, the only books I could find about being gay were definitely not aimed at people my age and most of them had sad endings. Not to mention the issue of actually finding a copy of those books was a whole other struggle.
It is inspiring to know that some kid just like me, just like Simon, will find this book and be given the courage they need to come to terms with who they are. Even if coming out, in the words of Simon, “feels like a strange sort of loss.”
If you haven’t had a chance to read the book yet in anticipation of the movie, you should. However, the point of this article isn’t to provide a striking advertisement of the book or movie.
Sometimes during reading, there are moments you realize the awkwardness of how high school used to be and, in some ways, it pulls you out of the experience. But maybe that’s why the book is so successful. Simon’s experience in the trials of coming out and being himself in a high school that’s less than accepting reflects how truly awkward growing up is for all of us.
Simon talks in part on how, “White shouldn’t be the default any more than straight should be the default.”
If we want to create an inclusive society in an increasingly divisive world, what better way to start than giving stories like this to the young people who need them?