YA Diversity Book Club: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Diversity Book Club
Welcome to the May edition of the YA Diversity Book Club, a monthly feature we created in partnership with three other book bloggers: Kristina at Gone Pecan, Lucy at The Reading Date, and Kristan at We Heart YA. This month we read debut author Becky Albertalli’s adorable contemporary romance “Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda” about a not-quite-out guy named Simon who’s secretly falling for Blue, another closeted gay student at his school. We all loved the book and considered it one of our favorites since we started the YA Diversity Book Club last July.

For “Simon,” we’re once again hosting the book club discussion, and we hope that you’ll be prompted to put the book on your immediate TBR list; we promise you won’t regret it.

Many thanks to Harper Teen/Epic Reads for sending us all review copies of the book!

Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Harper Collins, 303 pages | April 7, 2015 | Goodreads | Amazon ~ IndieBound

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.


Reading Date:
Teen Lit Rocks:

We Heart YA:
Gone Pecan:
Reading Date: So, what did everyone think of SIMON? I thought it was a really sweet coming out story that really came together for me at the end.
We Heart YA: I think the narrative voice is really great, and the mystery of Who Is Blue is quite compelling.
Teen Lit Rocks: I was afraid the hype would make me dislike it (that happens when I’m not an early adopter sometimes), but it was so charming and sweet.
Gone Pecan: I liked it!  I wasn’t in love but it read quickly. I would have liked a bit more time AFTER we find out who Blue is.
Reading Date: I LOVED Blue especially.
Gone Pecan: Also, I would have liked a little more time with Simon working through the blackmail with Martin.
Reading Date: That turned into an interesting twist.
Teen Lit Rocks: I figured out who Blue was really early.

Reading Date: Me too, Sandie.

We Heart YA: We may want to keep the chat spoiler-free, at least about Blue’s identity, for the sake of other readers?
Teen Lit Rocks: BUT I still enjoyed that I knew and Simon didn’t and kept obsessing over other people.
Reading Date: Yes definitely… The emails were a refreshing take on the coming out story. Did you like the email exchanges?
We Heart YA: Haha I formed a hunch pretty early on (maybe 1/4 of the way through?
Gone Pecan: I preferred the emails over the chapters/
Teen Lit Rocks: I did enjoy the emails; it’s the new form of epistolary communication!
We Heart YA: I really liked the emails! Flirty and fun and youthful — what’s not to like?
Reading Date: Agreed- very fun and flirty.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, the emails were the REAL Simon so I loved seeing their banter. I also loved the sibling dynamic, because as you know, I’m a sucker for families in YA that actually love one another.
We Heart YA: Yes, omg, the whole Spier family was great!
Reading Date: Yes, the families were great and supportive. Why do you think Simon was so reluctant to come out to his friends and family? Though I did like his point that everyone should have to come out
We Heart YA: A little bit like the family in “Easy A”?

Reading Date: Yeah I could see that!

We Heart YA: I think it just goes to show that, at least for now, sexual identity is still so fraught that even in the most supportive environments, it can feel like A Thing. I suspect that’s probably very realistic. (Though admittedly I don’t know firsthand)

Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, I just read a book EMMY & OLIVER in which the gay best friend had a supportive family in theory but in practice it was different. The finality of sharing the news can be daunting even in the most gay friendly families.Heck, even in families where the parents are gay.

We Heart YA: Yeah there’s even a line in SIMON about how Catholic parents joining in parades after a kid comes out, and liberal parents getting upset. This I do know firsthand: Sometimes what a person believes, and what they are able to handle in their own families, are two separate things.

Teen Lit Rocks: YES! Same with interracial dating (not exactly the same, I know)

We Heart YA: (Actually that’s exactly how I know firsthand, haha)

Reading Date: Good point. I do think everyone having to come out would relieve some of the pressure.

Gone Pecan: OMG to me that would make it worse!

We Heart YA: Like Simon, I used to think everyone should have to come out, but now I think no one should have to. I can’t wait till we get to a point in society where it doesn’t really matter

Reading Date: That’s true.

Gone Pecan: Sadly that day is probably a lot further than anyone would like.

We Heart YA: Unfortunately I do think it matters now; things aren’t equal/accepted enough, and queer kids need role models and peer support.

Teen Lit Rocks: I actually think LGBTQIA is more prominent in YA than many other kinds of diversity.

Reading Date: And for a lot of kids that support is online- so SIMON definitely got that right.

Teen Lit Rocks: I think authors are more willing to write an LGB (maybe not T) character than another identity outside their personal experience.

Reading Date: It’s not easy for some kids to join a club, GSA, etc. And I read that this author worked as a counselor for LGBTQIA kids so drew on that experience for the book.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, she definitely knew what she was writing about, and I loved that she wrote about two cities she knew about first-hand… She had lived in DC and moved to Atlanta

We Heart YA: Yeah, I think that even though she’s writing outside her personal experience, it rings true (at least to me, which hasn’t always been the case with diverse stories that I’ve read). I mean, she’s writing from a male POV too.

Teen Lit Rocks: I still feel more like a New Yorker than a DCist, but yeah I loved the little details like her brother going to Howard. And I love that the fact she was African American wasn’t some BIG DEAL

Reading Date: The male voice was very impressive.

We Heart YA: Well, so, I actually think the ethnicities is where the diversity was weakest. Because I was being *told* that these characters were black or Jewish or whatever, but I didn’t necessarily see/feel that.

Gone Pecan: YES!

Reading Date: Kristan- that was actually what bothered my own teen.

We Heart YA: I dunno, it’s subtle, and I don’t necessarily need race to be a Big Deal, as you said.

Gone Pecan: They just blended in to me.
We Heart YA: I think it’s just that everything else was done so well, so that one weakness stood out more to me than it might otherwise have

Teen Lit Rocks: See I thought it was purposeful.

Reading Date: Did you feel like her calling out race was just to show that she had diverse characters?

We Heart YA: I don’t know if I can read that into it. I just know that, to me, the races felt told instead of shown. Which is not the biggest deal, I’m just saying.

Teen Lit Rocks: I thought it was handled well in regards to Abby but maybe not some other characters.
Gone Pecan: I guess it could be good and bad? Good because no matter of race/religion they were friends, supported each other, etc. Bad because there wasn’t much detail thrown in.
Reading Date: My teen felt that it wasn’t realistic that race was called out so much.
Teen Lit Rocks: But I understand why she didn’t want him to have all white straight friends.

We Heart YA: And I just want to stress: I don’t think it was done BADLY. I just think so much else about the book was done great, so it stood out to me as not quite on par with the rest.

Teen Lit Rocks: Again, I thought in the case of Abby it was handled a bit better than it was with other supporting characters where it did feel more like OH he’s half black/half Jewish
But in general I thought the friendship dynamics were well developed, and I totally felt like she got Leah’s jealousy and heartache right.
We Heart YA: Yes! I can’t think of the right word for it, but I totally remember the difficulties of navigating the complicated webs of teenage social circles
Gone Pecan: I wish I had this great of a circle in high school for sure!
We Heart YA: Even if it’s not in regard to crushes, I think we can all identify with Leah, because we look around and see people who are richer or prettier or more successful or whatever.
Reading Date: Definitely. It’s all part of high school, and I wouldn’t go back for anything.
Teen Lit Rocks: I agree that the emails are the best part which is so RARE; most of the time the texts and emails in stories are easy to skim, but not these.
Reading Date: It’s getting late for you guys! Any parting words on Simon?
Teen Lit Rocks: I can’t remember who said they wished there had been a little bit more of Blue and Simon and I agree. She could even do a companion novel like Stephanie Perkins with the number of characters and crushes she mentioned.
Gone Pecan: I think it is a definite read!  LOL
Reading Date: I think that this one works really well for adult readers of YA especially. It’s smart and charming.
Teen Lit Rocks: I think as contemporary YA goes, this one is so charming and hopeful that even its little flaws are easy to forgive, because the main character and romance is so irresistible.

Interested in the book? Make sure to read our Author Q&A with Becky Albertalli at Gone Pecan, The Reading Date’s feature “Simon Says: The Audiobook Agenda,” and We Heart YA’s feature “Why We Love SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA”. Stay tuned in June when we read and discuss Stacey Lee’s UNDER A PAINTED SKY. Read more about it | Buy it.

This post fulfills our monthly participation in Reading Wishes & Rather Be Reading’s Dive Into Diversity Challenge.

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