‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli: Book Review

One of my favourite feelings is when you’ve been non-stop reading a book for hours in one day and finally finishing it at god knows what time in the morning and having that feeling of fulfillment and excitement to share how good it was with people. I had that last night with Becky Albertalli’s ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’. It’s a wholesome, funny tale of accepting yourself and falling in love with who you love no matter what. It’s a book for LGBT youth with a happy ending and adorable tidbits to give a feeling of hope.

The story follows seventeen year old Simon Spier who is gay, but isn’t open and not quite ready to come out yet. He lives a very chilled and fun life with a dorky but caring family, supportive, funny best friends and has recently started talking to a guy who is also gay going by the anonymous alias ‘Blue’. The novel shares each email conversation between Blue and Simon (who is also anonymously going by ‘Jacques’) as the story develops and reading Blue and Simon share their favourite food, favourite songs, little memories from their life and how each of them feel about coming out and being gay just put a smile on my face each time because seeing them fall in love and seeing Simon find someone he feels so comfortable with and someone who inspires him to come out was just lovely and precious.

Compared to the film (Love, Simon – which I also recommend watching as it was one of my favourite films of this year!), the book has a lot less ‘drama’ moments and focuses more on Simon’s feelings and him trying to figure out who Blue is. Without spoiling anything, in general Simon’s friends are a lot more accepting and understanding of how Simon acts when he is blackmailed. In the film I found myself angry at his friends for being so selfish and not taking a minute to think of how much of a big deal it was for Simon to have his emails between Blue under blackmail. ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ discusses the topic of coming out and the ‘ceremonial feeling’ of it often and points out the unfair fact that ‘straight’ is seen as the default or the sexuality everybody has until said otherwise and that straight people will never have to come out or worry about people’s reactions when it comes to bringing an opposite sex partner home. Blue also points out the fact that ‘white’ is seen as a default too which is another very interesting point and even Simon corrects himself and takes responsibility for instantly believing Blue could be a white person. The book raises important discussions which I really appreciated and I have to hand Becky Albertalli a lot of credit for being very observant on LGBT topics.

Another interesting point to think about when reading is that Simon is very lucky to have probably the more ‘easy’ end of coming out. His family is already very liberal, his friends instantly accept his sexuality and even when he is teased in school when his sexuality is revealed a lot of classmates are quick to defend him and his teacher ensures the suspension of the homophobic perpetrators. Although reading his coming out story might be a bit of a slap in the face or a bit of a strain on the heart for LGBT people whose family didn’t readily accept them or their coming out story was a lot more stressful, I think the story in itself is very hopeful and heart warming and hopefully is a reminder that good people are out there with open minds and open arms.

The story itself is very adorably written. Simon is instantly lovable with his obsession of Oreos, his sarkiness and slightly moody music taste. His friends and family are also very lovely although in comparison to the film I didn’t like Leah as much in the book as I did the film. I’m hoping reading Albertalli’s next book ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ will clear up some things for me. I really enjoyed how much music came in to play in Simon’s story because I feel people’s playlists can really let you inadvertently know a lot about how the character feels and views themselves or people around them. The soundtrack for the film was already incredible but I really loved taking songs and musicians mentioned in the book and listening to them whilst I read it really gave the whole reading of this book a new, wholesome atmosphere.

There was so many incredibly adorable and funny moments in this book but I don’t want to spoil too much so all I can say is that I highly recommend you read this book! It’s quite a quick read (especially if you find yourself lost in it like I did) but it’s such a feel good book and such a lovely read that I give it a 5/5!

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Thanks for reading,

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‘Alice’ by Christina Henry: Book Review

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by L.Carroll is a story popular for being retold, adapted and used as an inspiration for new projects. The list for film and television programmes based on Alice in Wonderland is big enough to have its own Wikipedia page, the novel has been adapted into musical/stage productions and has even inspired stories and characters in video games. However, another common thing artists and writers take from Alice in Wonderland is twisting it and creating a dark retelling of the tale of the girl falling down the rabbit hole. ‘Alice’ by Christina Henry isn’t the first ‘dark’ and ‘edgy’ retelling of Alice in Wonderland I have come across, as the first one is actually PS3/PC and Xbox 360 game Alice: Madness Returns. A game I actually quite enjoyed growing up!

‘Alice’ the 2015 novel by Christina Henry also almost brought that excitement back to me but this time in written form. Now I will say my first write-up of this and the feelings I had when I finished the book was very similar to how I finish most books which are excited and feeling accomplished! I wrote down how much I adored this retelling and that even though it was disturbing it felt like it succeeded in making a point about the dark topics used. But now I’ve sat back and thought about it, I thought I’d share my honest, spoiler-free review of ‘Alice’.

What I did enjoy about this book is that I enjoyed the inverted characters, I really loved seeing Henry’s dark portrayals of originally beloved characters from the books but this time they’d be antagonists and have very dark, irredeemable pasts. Objects and tropes from the original tale made appearances too such as the ‘Eat Me!’ cupcake and ‘Drink Me!’ bottle, the roses and the tea party. But, this time everything had such a darker symbolism and it was quite clever how Christina had changed this. Even after finishing I’m recalling characters and realising their reference to the original story and being quite intrigued. The story itself played out almost like an RPG, in which there was ‘bosses’ and big bads one after the other, the main characters stopping for rest and food and the main character herself having a power she didn’t even realise she had. I didn’t mind reading it this way and actually quite enjoyed it, I liked imagining in my head what Old City was like and enjoyed that some of the names of places and areas called back to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and if they didn’t (or I couldn’t get the reference) they still brought personality to the world.

However, my biggest gripe with the story is that there was way too much sexual violence. I get this was meant to be a mature, disturbing retelling where there will be horror, gore and blood and I could get behind that and in some novels and stories I can understand why rape, abuse and violence comes up and if the victims manage to get a happy ending, revenge and the story emphasizes how horrible it is, I can normally accept a story having it. What I think went wrong in ‘Alice’ however is, although the story is clear the trade of young girls for sexual purposes or being eaten is horrific and the men that puppeteer this need to be punished, the way it’s written feels like they tried to emphasize how horrible it is by making it happen so often, by describing Alice’s trauma in detail, and having every female in the story basically either terrified of being raped or had been. Even then, I personally felt the final fights with the main antagonists that were rapists or allowing this violence and abuse were so anti-climatic that there was no justice? There was a scene of freeing a bunch of girls from the horrible trade and I was grateful for that scene but it’s almost as if the original plot had one antagonist in mind and then it was said the story was not brutal enough or ‘real world dark’ enough so they added in all this sexual violence?

Personally, I found myself gripped to parts of this book and did want to find out the outcome of every character and felt myself wanting Alice to get revenge and justice not just for herself but for all the females in the story. I did also find myself quite wanting to read the sequel book (Red Queen -and pray that hopefully the level of sexual violence is remarkably toned down) just so I can find out what happens next in the story.

I’d rate ‘Alice’ about a 2.5 of 5 as it has some cool fantasy ideas and I could somehow picture it in a film or video game but after sitting back I do see the flaws in how parts of it were written. Shock value is popular for a reason, popular media like Game of Thrones is widely watched and read for a reason and I feel the reason is purely that people are so shocked and astonished by what characters do and think it’s so out of the blue (and normally it is, sometimes very out of character) that they must finish it to find out what happens! I definitely succumbed to that reading this. I enjoyed parts of it but in general was very much turned off by the use of sexual violence and rape as shock value. Would I like to read any of the other stories by Christina Henry such as Lost Boy? Possibly. But ‘Alice’ in itself is a story not for everyone.

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Thank you for reading!

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