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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, written by Becky Albertalli. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2015. $21.99 ages 14 and up

"Perfect happiness is: gripping the bottom of a rolling chair with both hands, while Cal Price pushes me down the hall in a full-on run. We race against two of the sophomore girls from the ensemble. Cal is kind of a slow-moving person, so they totally dominate, but I don't even care. His hands grip my shoulders, and we're both laughing, and the rows of lockers are a toothpaste-blue hue."

Simon is a gay teen who has been sending emails back and forth with a another gay teen in his school, known to him as Blue. Their conversations are shared with readers in chapters written from Simon's point-of-view, a perfect way to get to know the young man at the center of all that happens in this quirky, humorous, spot-on look at teenagers and the many ways they interact.

Simon is a fine character. Readers are sure to enjoy his take on the world, voiced at times with great humor and at others with heartbreaking clarity. Often impetuous, Simon walks away from a school computer leaving his Gmail account open. Martin reads the series of emails between Simon and Blue and uses what he learns to blackmail Simon with exposure ... unless Simon sets him up with one of his best friends. The threat forces Simon to come out to family, friends, and his classmates.

Writing from her experiences in working with teens, Ms. Albertalli captures clearly the voices of each of the characters who people this very special book. They are well-developed and play an important role in helping Simon along this new path. I found myself cheering him on, while also feeling edgy about the anonymity between Simon and Blue.

"And I seriously laughed out loud at your crime-fighting
office supply Justice League. I wish I could have seen
them. But about the texting thing - all I can say is that
I'm really sorry. The idea of exchanging phone numbers
just terrifies me. It does. It's just the idea that you could
call me and hear my voice mail message and KNOW. I
don't know what to say, Jacques. I'm just not ready for
you to know who I am. I know it's stupid, and honestly, at
this point, I spend about half my waking hours imagining
us meeting in person for the first time. But I can't think of
a way for that to happen without everything changing. I
think I'm scared to lose you."

Simon grows more and more frustrated with not knowing who Blue is, while also trying to respect his wish to stay quiet about his identity. Readers are certainly aware of how deeply each cares for the other. I was fully engaged in the mystery, always trying to guess Blue's identity. The careful clues and red herrings assure interest and maintain a quick pace.

The social dynamic that propels the story is very clear and carefully written. We see Simon's friends and family supporting him in very personal ways, while also trying to navigate new waters for some of them. Their stories play a role in a narrative that is essentially Simon's to tell. While he is intent on his relationship with Blue, his friends and family are an integral part of a book that is funny, emotional, and wise.

I think you should meet Simon; then, introduce him to your students.

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