This is just one of those books – the ones that you kind of see everywhere and hear good things about, but don’t actually know much about it. And then you see they’re making a movie based on it (Love, Simon), so you watch the trailer and, finally, read a blurb about the book. And you decide, based on how freaking cute the trailer is, that you just have to see it, BUT you’ll have to read it first (because that’s how you live your life). So, here we are.
It’s a pretty basic plot line: high school student Simon (adorable, theater geek, great group of friends and family) has a secret: he’s gay. Literally no one knows. He ends up email pen pals with another (anonymous) gay student at his school. Cue the following: butterflies-in-your-stomach crushes, various layers of friends and family drama, a little bit of blackmail, a lot of coming out stress, and the best heartwarming happy ending I’ve ever read. But seriously, for all that you know exactly where the story is going, the infectious positivity from Simon, the support of the important people in his life, the big reveal of the secret pen pal – it’s all these little details that develop over time that give the story it’s body and power and livelihood. It’s a totally unputdownable, super fast, absolutely charming story. It’s the happy ending, despite the challenges and roadblocks, that every single person’s sexuality story deserves but doesn’t necessarily get.
Albertalli does a great job tying in some other important high school themes without missing a beat or overpowering the primary narrative. The right women have to their own autonomy, to choose who they are into or interested in dating, all by themselves. The need children have for their own privacy and growth balanced out with the vested interest parents have in that same growth. The importance of everyone’s struggles and the fact that, mainstream or not, we all face challenges that we need support overcoming – the focus needs to be empathy, not comparison. And the need for that to be balanced with each person’s right to tell their own story, share their own struggles, in their own way and on their own timeline. Plus, it’s important to remember that, although this story has the perfect happy ending (one that made me squeak out loud and hug the book to my chest like you wouldn’t believe – in fact, I am STILL smiling just thinking about it), they do not all end that way. In any case, I was quite impressed with the author’s voice and her ability to create a story that encompasses so many high school dramas and makes them all seem real and important (which in some cases they are and in some cases they just seem to be at the time), instead of trivialized and childish. Because no matter which category they fall into, they do all play a role in shaping who we are and what we become…and that is significant.
(Side note: After reading a little about the author, and now knowing that she helped lead a support group for gender nonconforming youth in DC for years, her grasp of these characters struggles during this time in their lives makes a lot of sense – not any less impressive, but definitely more understandable.)
For the characters in this book, and for all of us as readers, the biggest takeaway (in my opinion) other than the general superiority of Oreos as a cookie, is to be there for each other. Even though we all have our problems, remember to always try to see things from others’ perspectives, before making any rash or permanent decisions (read: mistakes). We may not always know when someone needs support, or how to give it, but being open to offer and learn is what makes the best of humanity. So, right now, go pick up this book and let this little slice of delightful light up your life. Read it, love it, and then join me in throwing support (read: money) at it in theaters to show the world we want to see more representative characters and authentic stories like these!