Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a story about a very funny sixteen year old boy who is not quite out of the closet. He’s come to terms with it himself, but he’s not ready to share it with the rest of the world…except for one person. And that person is Blue, an anonymous, similarly closeted, boy he’s been e-mailing. They go to the same school, they’re even in the same grade, but for now they don’t know who the other really is.
But their budding romance is soon threatened when another classmate stumbles upon one of their emails and begins to blackmail Simon. Overnight, Simon’s previously low-key life has suddenly got a whole lot more complicated.
Becky Albertalli, a practicing psychologist, is the author of Simon and she’s here today to talk about her debut novel, working with gender nonconforming kids, and of course, Oreos.
Simon is a book that’s filled with a lot of laugh out loud moments, but it’s also filled with just as many heartwarming ones. Is it harder to write something funny? Or something moving?
That’s such a great question – and I don’t know the answer! It’s hard to explain, but I don’t think I deliberately tried to create scenes that would funny and/or moving. I really just tried to get into Simon’s head and follow his lead. I think the funny parts and moving parts are all born from that connection with the character.
That actually leads right into my next question– I thought one of the strongest elements of your book was the voice. I really felt like I was inside Simon’s head. Was this something that came easily to you? Did you do anything to help get you in the right mindset?
Thank you so much – and Simon’s voice actually did come pretty naturally to me! He’s always been very vivid in my head. To help translate that onto the page, I did reread my high school journals before drafting. My high school self gets full credit for any and all awkward moments in Simon.
I’m curious – did you know Blue’s identity when you first started writing?
Yup! I absolutely knew from the beginning.
This book takes place in Atlanta Georgia and you grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta. Did being a local make it easier or more difficult to bring Simon’s world to life on the page?
It helped a lot. I think I’m the opposite of a fantasy writer. My books are very grounded in reality, so for me, it’s helpful to have a really thorough knowledge of the setting to anchor my descriptions.
Do you love Oreos as much as Simon? How do you eat them?
I do! All of Simon’s Oreo fantasies were completely autobiographical. I think my favorite ways to eat Oreos are in ice cream, in truffles, and just totally submerged in milk.
Do you think the book’s you read as a teen influenced the kind of book you would go on to write for teens?
I think this is true for me to some extent. One of my biggest influences was absolutely The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I read and adored as a teenager. However, a lot of my most important influences were books I didn’t discover until my twenties.
For seven years you worked with gender nonconforming kids in Washington DC – how did this experience influence this novel?
The kids I worked with are so cool and so brave, and in a general sense, I was very inspired by them. However, their privacy is so important to me, and I’m careful not to use any of their particular stories in my fiction. Honestly, it can be hard to navigate that! I think the biggest part of my work that carried over to the book was simply the idea that every kid has a different experience. Context and environment are so important – and I really tried to show that with Simon.
This is your debut novel, what about the publishing experience has surprised you the most?
So much about publishing has surprised me! I think one of the biggest surprises was how much I would enjoy participating in the YA community. When I started this process, I had basically no social media presence, and I drafted the book in almost total isolation. I found twitter really, really intimidating at first. I’m surprised by how much I ended up loving it.
If you could recommend one LGBTQ YA book (other than your own of course) what would it be?
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. It’s so funny and sad and vivid and full of life. It’s about a Puerto Rican teenage boy living in the Bronx who wants to undergo a medical procedure to forget he’s gay.
If you could give Simon one piece of advice what would it be?
That’s a tough question! I think Simon is the kind of kid who really learns from his mistakes, so I want him to make them. That being said, I guess I could start by reminding him to always logout of Gmail.