I came to this book far later than everyone else. In fact, I came to it so late that I did the thing book lovers never do: I saw the film first. I know that you want to tie me in the stocks and throw things at me for doing this, but let’s just move on okay. I’ve read the book now and everything is FIIIINNNNEEEE. Except my shrivelled, dark heart because it had to endure some feelings. I loved the film, and I was really excited to finally get around to reading the book when Amy chose it as one of my May reads.
The book starts in the middle of Simon being blackmailed by Martin. As openers go, it’s certainly a gripping one. Martin used a computer at school right after Simon and discovered some highly personal correspondence. Being the honest, thoughtful, and good-natured chap he is, Martin took screenshots of this and is using those to blackmail Simon into helping him to form a relationship with Abby. Martin is such a nice guy! What could he possibly have in those screenshots that Simon isn’t ready to share? Simon is gay, and he’s not out yet.
The emails are conversations between Simon and Blue, another pupil at the school whose identity is very much a secret at this point. We don’t hear until later in the story how they started chatting, but the two bonded over their sexuality and the pressure on them to come out and be public about it. This is something they talk about a lot, why they haven’t yet, how they might come out and who to, and the annoyance that this “isn’t something that straight kids generally have to worry about”. It gives the reader a lot to think about. Simon and Blue’s blossoming relationship is beautiful to read, though I did feel uncomfortable at times when Simon was pushing Blue to reveal his identity even though Blue wasn’t ready for this.
Simon has a very twisted sense of humour and his voice comes across really well in the book, with lines like:
“There are some socks that shouldn’t be washed by your Mom.”
Which make you laugh, but also do a little sick in your mouth (it also made me very personally relieved that I do not do the laundry in our house). It’s a very authentic teen voice, and Becky writes it perfectly. Simon is so easy to identify with.
Despite the blackmail, Simon and Martin form a tentative friendship. There are times when it seems that the two could become genuine friends. They are acting together in the school play along with Abby and this gives Martin the perfect chance to push Simon into helping him, which Simon goes along with. I wanted to give Simon a good, hard smack around the head with something heavy for this, but at the same time I cannot blame him for wanting to keep his secret.
Simon has other friends: Nick and Leah. Nick is pretty laid back, but has a huge crush on Abby. Leah is quite moody. She’s cynical and snappy. She flounces a lot, and it is obvious that she is dealing with a lot of her own Stuff. I was thrilled when Leah on the Offbeat was announced because this means I can read so much more about her.
Everything is looking good for Simon, until someone outs him in a very public way, and the whole school finds out he is gay. This is a big deal. It’s not okay and Simon is really hurt. Not only because he has become the centre of attention and found himself receiving some unwanted (and hideous) abuse from his fellow pupils, but because it was HIS to share, not anyone else’s:
“This is a big fucking thing, okay? This was supposed to be, this is mine. I’m supposed to decide when and where and who knows and how I say it.”
He acts out by getting hideously drunk with Nick and Abby (leaving Leah behind because they don’t want her to bring them down – Leah is all the kinds of not happy), and he goes home in quite the state looking for a gift Blue gave him and gets into a lot of trouble at home to top off his awesome life.
Blue and Simon’s relationship becomes strained now Blue knows who Simon is, but keeps his own identity a secret. Simon has all of the thoughts: that he’s not good enough or attractive enough for Blue. He is also struggling at home. His parents and siblings are fantastic (although his dad makes a lot of homophobic jokes before he knows about Simon – this is addressed later in the book), but Simon doesn’t know how to be around them, or anyone at first. His friendship group is falling apart, and he feels like he has no one to turn to. He was not ready for this.
I don’t want to ruin the joy for you by saying much more about this one, so read it if you haven’t already. I also highly recommend the film.