Being sixteen is hard, being sixteen with a secret is harder. Simon Spier knows what it’s like to keep a part of himself hidden. He’s gay but the only person who knows is his mystery pen-pal Blue. But when Martin the school joker finds Simon’s e-mails to Blue it looks like the truth might come out, whether Simon wants it to or not. The only way to stop Martin from spilling is to help him get closer to Abby, Simon’s friend.
High-school stories can fall into familiar territory. It’s easy to slip into the stereotypes we all know, the popular kids, the drama students, the sports stars, the academics, but Becky Abertalli’s characters resists those labels, and that’s what makes this book so successful. It’s Martin, who’s usually the butt of the joke that blackmails Simon, threatening to release his e-mails if he doesn’t help him get the girl. For someone who seems intelligent, Martin is surprisingly oblivious to the problems with his plan and the cruelty of it.
The bottom line is you can’t make someone like you by forcing them to spend time with you, and that’s something Martin fails to get. Which leads to one of the overarching themes of the book: choice. Time and again, Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda reinforces the importance of choice, of being able to do things on your own terms, in your own time. Simon handles a potentially traumatising situation really well, and that’s partly down to his support network. What happens to him might not have been on his terms, but he owns it.
Simon isn’t struggling with his sexuality. It’s one of the aspects of himself that he’s most sure of. It’s the fear that telling people will permanently change their perception of him that scares him the most. Particularly when starting to drink coffee is a major announcement in his family. Once it’s out there it can’t be taken back, so even if Simon knows who he is it’s still a big deal. Simon’s right, we have to reintroduce ourselves to the universe all the time because we change and that means challenging the assumptions people have about us. Other characters in the book surprise the people around them too.
Simon’s e-mails with Blue are interwoven into the narrative, and offer a positive side to the internet. We talk a lot about the negative impact the internet’s anonymity can have, and the school’s Tumblr page does reveal that dark side at times, but Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda always shows how it can connect people, offering comfort and support away from the outside world. The internet can give teenagers a hand to reach out to. Simon and Blue’s exchanges are funny, supportive and genuine. Blue’s identity doesn’t really seem that important as the book progresses, because Simon already knows him from his e-mails, meeting him in person would just be the icing on top of the cake.