“Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn’t be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever. I’m just saying.”
Simon Spier is a 16-year-old student in a close-knit group of friends in a school that doesn’t exhibit the usual high school hierarchy. This is a place where the popular girls, anime lovers and footballers sit together at lunch and stand up for each other when it counts. Simon is also gay, but nobody knows except Blue, a mysterious boy who Simon met online. When Simon’s emails are found by class-clown Martin, Simon finds himself in a sticky situation where he is almost-maybe-not-quite being blackmailed to set Martin up with his friend Abby. It’s not that Simon is scared of coming out exactly, but he is scared of compromising Blue and losing the most important thing in his life.
Navigating difficult dynamics between friends, romances and jealousy, the idea of the world knowing his secret is an extra drama Simon can’t face right now. He wants to do this his way.
The strongest element of Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda is the way it presents Simon’s feelings about his sexuality and coming out. He is not going through a ‘phase’ of uncertainty, but nor does being gay exclude him from having had girlfriends in the past. He is not worried about his friends or his family’s reactions, and this is not a story that positions coming out as a problem. It does, however, highlight the importance of it being personal. Simon is concerned about being in control of when and how, and of holding onto his own identity in the process.
Each chapter is interspersed by a series of emails between Simon and the mysterious Blue. The two met online and don’t know each other’s real-world identities, but they know each other inside out. Their emails are intimate, supportive and progressively flirtatious, and are heart-melting to read as these two strangers fall in love in a bubble outside of the day-to-day.
Whilst I loved Simon’s character, I was bothered by his self-absorption and hypocrisy. Simon gets wound up by his family’s interest in his life, accusing them of making everything a big deal and not allowing him to change. He gets inexplicably angry at his mum when she notices that he’s started drinking coffee, and yet he is annoyed at his sisters, Alice and Nora, for acting differently and confidently tells the reader that ‘that is not something Nora does’. He also reads into every behaviour of his friends but is slow to accept responsibility for hurting one of his best friends. He is going through a difficult time but it is almost as if he knows he is the protagonist and other people’s drama fall second to his.
Whilst these double standards annoyed me whilst reading, upon reflection they are probably fairly reflective of teenage life. With fluctuating hormones it can be very hard to view situations and relationships in a balanced way, and I can remember the frustration of parents asking questions, particularly when you yourself are unsure of the answers. This can only be amplified when a major part of your life is secret from the people you are closest to.
There is also one particular scene involving a gay club which I found problematic, revealing Simon’s friends to have a naive and simplistic reaction to Simon’s sexuality and showing what I felt was a stereotypical view of gay culture. I didn’t feel like this scene served to drive the story forward at all, except to show that there was a gay community around Simon, and that his friends were comfortable with it.
Despite these small issues, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The love story that unfolds, the way the boys slowly negotiate what they are ready for, is beautifully written. But most importantly, Simon’s attitude towards the idea of ‘default’ personalities presents a strong questioning of social norms that encourage us to examine our own presumptions. It’s one thing to be accepting of different types of people, and another to stop prescribing to the idea that there IS a type. If we’re all different, why should there be a distinction?