Friday, 19 June 2015

REVIEW: Simon vs the homosapien agenda- Becky Albertalli

AKA this review is 60% Flora giving her views on the portrayal of LGBT+ groups in books for young adults: yay for critical consumption!



Well with /that/ title how was I not to buy it?

If I am entirely honest with you the cover itself didn't have me head over heels, the minimal colour palette with basic shapes and shiny textures is dull and overdone amongst the YA genre (I blame John Green), I mean sure it's simple and offers some solid brand looks from the get-go, but amongst shelves full of teen literature I feel it would be easy to pass by. The review comparing it to John Green, which was supposed to be enticing led me to think: "Wow, okay we're still stuck on this fake-deep genre about average boys and manic pixie dreamgirls. Great!" (AFTERTHOUGHT: I'm being unusually catty during this review, not quite sure what's up with that). On the other hand Rainbow Rowell has a special place in my heart although I guess that criticism could just as easily be applied to her work (though I found her characters much more likable and three dimensional). Honestly? As first impressions go, it could have been better. But something about the pun of the title, and the fact that we are starved of much YA literature centred around anything other than a straight couple with minor adversities to overcome made me pick it up.

I'm a big fan of books with alternative formatting, so the fact that every other chapter took place in the form of an email between Simon,our protagonist, and Blue, his mystery crush who happens to be another gay boy hidden somewhere in his school, was wonderful. The driving plot of this book revolves around Simon's classmate, Martin,blackmailing him after reading his emails when he'd accidently left them open on a school computer (somehow this book instated a fear that I hadn't even considered before- make sure to log off your accounts,people!) In order to avoid being forced out of the closet by the scheming classmate Simon is forced to do as he wishes, including helping him to get close to a girl he is friends with, throwing up some interesting moral questions. From then on the book is rather reminiscent of a whodunnit mystery, the reader- along with Simon-trying to guess the elusive Blue's identity.

More so than the actual plot, what I admired about this book was how likable the characters were; even the friends in the background seemed well fleshed-out, and even the more unsavoury qualities were balanced and accounted for. Another thing, when adult writers aim to incorporate more modern forms of media it can feel awkward and stilted, yet this book didn't appear to suffer from that. The cultural references, in the form of music and more, were diverse enough to seem inclusive to many types of reader (although a Tegan and Sara obsessive gay teen may be a slightly overdone trope already!) Even Martin, who is the antagonist and therefore obviously rather unsavoury didn't feel like a total write-off, his motives formed just as much of the plot as Simon's panic.

In a way I agree with the general consensus that there's too much emphasis on "coming out" in LGBT+ literature, especially that geared towards teenagers. There's more to queer people's lives than simply stating their sexuality or gender- it oversimplifies matters. On the other hand, there are many unique stories to be told, even someone like Simon who isn't in a particularly aggressive environment. Rather than trashing media that follows the story of coming out, encourage a much higher volume of text involving non heterosexual and trans people, where that doesn't need to be the centre of the story- normalise it. Ideally, this could be the case, and finding "Simon vs" wouldn't be such a surprise. I want for sexualities to stop being added as an afterthought, even after the series has ended; also that don't make a characters sexuality / non cisgender(-ness ?) their defining feature.

All that having been said, this book was easy to get thoroughly lost in, and I got through it in the time of a 4 hour car journey. It was worth the nausea. 

3.5/5.

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Flo xo