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My SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA coming out story/review, reposted for posterity

Hi! Happy Halloween! Below, please find my review of Becky Albertalli’s SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, originally posted over three years ago on a book blog I’ve since deleted. I’d thought the review was gone, but I found it squirreled away in my computer today when sorting out old documents instead of finishing my manuscript like I should be. And since today is International, Intergalactic First Look At Love, Simon Day, I figured it’s a good time to re-share! For posterity, you know?

A few quick notes:

  1. I have no idea why I was kind of hard on this book that literally changed my life??? Like, no offense, seventeen-year-old Mark—I know I was pretty freaking emotional writing this—but what, pray tell, the hell? I gave this an A rating, not an A+? Am I serious?
  2. That said, I decided not to change any of it, even the parts that make me cringe. This is how I felt at the time, and though I now think SIMON is pretty much perfect, I’m honoring teen!Mark’s feelings.
  3. Can we just take a minute to laugh at how I called Becky, my now-good friend who I’ve since met in person and who I am currently texting as I write this, “Ms. Albertalli”? Seventeen-year-old Mark would’ve been catatonic if he’d known this review would lead to an amazing friendship with her. (I love you, Becky!)

Without further ado, here is how Becky Albertalli’s SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA radically altered my life for the better, reposted in all its glory:

Sometimes a book isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t matter because it’s real. Sometimes a book is not objectively the best thing you’ve ever read, but that doesn’t matter because subjectively it’s amazing. Sometimes a book gives you strength you didn’t know you had.

“Mark, you’re overstating this,” you say. “There’s no way this book, with its fun title and generally light plot and witty dialogue, impacted you that much.”

Let me tell you something: before I read Simon vs., I didn’t want to come out to my mom until I was in college with a job and a car and some semblance of stability and autonomy. When I finished the book two days after starting—which, incidentally, is extremely fast for me—I took a day to think, and then the next day I came out to my mom.

Why? Because this book helped me to say “So…I’m…gay…” Because this book isn’t perfect by any means, but it hit me in a spot that needed hitting. Ms. Albertalli is one hell of a writer—and, in fact, one hell of a human being—if for no other reason than because she managed to capture exactly what I felt at every part of the coming out process. (I’m still not out at school except to a select group of friends, but that’s a different matter—I don’t care about the people at my school like I care about my mom.)

So what about this book made it so amazing? The characters, really. Simon is scared, but he is not confused. He knows who he is and what he wants, and he’s unashamed about being gay without it being the only part of his personality. When I was about thirty pages into the eARC I got, I actually tweeted Dahlia Adler (@MissDahlELama), saying the following:

I try not to judge books too hard either way when I’ve only just started, and as a general rule, I do not discuss them in a public forum until I’ve finished and have my feelings in order. (What if my opinion changes halfway through? What if the book becomes problematic? etc.) But something about Simon made me sit up and say, “You know what, that is spot on.” And it remained that way throughout the entire book—I was in awe of how Ms. Albertalli, herself not a gay boy in high school, could capture the things I experience with such perfect precision.

Four days later, I tweeted this:

I’d love to say “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda gave me the strength to come out to my mom,” but it didn’t. I gave me the strength to come out to my mom. But Simon and Blue and their story and their world gave me the foundation to stand on, and I’ll always, always be grateful for that.

The one thing I could think of to critique about this book—the one reason I gave it an A, not an A+—is that I knew who Blue was almost immediately. If you’re paying attention, you should be able to figure it out too, but by no means did this curb my love for Simon vs. The wonderful thing, the thing that is a testament to Ms. Albertalli’s ability, is that knowing Blue’s identity didn’t matter. It didn’t make me love the book any less.

(Also, Blue’s identity isn’t the point of the book—at least not in my view. Granted, Simon’s main goal throughout the story is to find the boy behind the email, but if you go into this book searching for clues as to who Blue is, you’ll miss all the amazing parts.)

So would I recommend Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda? Yes, yes, yes. To LGBTQ kids especially, but also to their friends, their family. People curious about the inner workings of a queer kid’s brain. People who think they don’t know any queer people. Simon’s story is not a masterpiece, but it feels like it was painted just for me, and that makes it damn near perfect in my eyes.

Donate to Fox Benwell’s Medical Transition, Get a Critique!

[UPDATED July 2: Alex Yuschik is also offering critiques—see below!]

Howdy, friends! My knightly buddy Fox Benwell (who you know from his Twitter, site, and acclaimed debut, The Last Leaves Falling) needs some help. You can—and should—read his story here, but in summary: he needs a procedure done, but the out-of-pocket costs are ridiculous for one person to bear. He’s turned to fundraising on GoFundMe with a goal of ten thousand pounds, and I super want to help get him there—Fox is the loveliest, most compassionate friend, and he deserves this.

So! This is what’s going to happen.

I’m a YA writer represented by Heather Flaherty at The Bent Agency. I’ve been chosen for Pitch Wars twice—once in 2013 with author Laura Tims as my mentor, and once in 2015 with multi-published author Helene Dunbar. I’m also an editorial intern with senior editor Kate Brauning at Entangled Publishing, working mostly with YA at Entangled Teen. I’ve been involved in contests like Beth Phelan’s #DVpit, where I worked with dozens of writers on honing their queries and pitches. In short, I know my stuff, and if you donate to Fox’s GoFundMe, I’m going to help you with your stuff. I only ask that your work be middle grade or older in age category. That’s the only restriction I’m placing on this offer right now, and that’s only because I’m not super familiar with picture books, early readers, or chapter books. Any genre will be accepted.

Anyway, here are the goodies:

If you click here and donate £5 (or, for us Americans, $6.64), I will critique your query letter OR your first five pages, your choice. Email proof of donation (screenshot, link to your donation on Fox’s GoFundMe, whatever) to markobrienbooks at gmail dot com along with your query pasted in the body of the email or the pages attached in .doc or .docx.

If you click here and donate £10 (or, for us Americans, $13.27), I will critique your query letter AND your first five pages. Same instructions as above, but please include both.

If you click here and donate £15 (or, for us Americans, $19.91), I will critique your query letter AND your first ten pages. Same instructions as above.

If you click here and donate £25 (or, for us Americans, $33.18), I will critique your query letter AND your first twenty-five pages AND I will do another round with you. This means you’ll have as much time as you’d like to implement my initial edits, and I’ll provide the same level of feedback on your revised query and pages when you send them back. Same instructions as above.

If you click here and donate £50 (or, for us Americans, $66.36), I will critique your query letter AND your first fifty pages AND I will do up to two additional rounds with you. Same instructions as above.

If you click here and donate £100 (or, for us Americans, $132.73), I will critique your query letter AND your first hundred pages AND I will do up to two additional rounds with you. Same instructions as above.

If you click here and donate £200 (or, for us Americans, $265.46), I will critique your query letter AND your full manuscript AND I will do up to two additional rounds with you. Same instructions as above.

Alex Yuschik is offering critiques as well! She’s a freelance editor who works with Kate (#TeamBrauning ftw) at K&A Editorial and she’s represented by Bridget Smith. She’s completed two publishing internships, one with literary agent Mary Kole, and another with editor Theresa Cole at Entangled. She’s also a weirdo who’s doing math grad school, but that is neither here nor there.

She’s offering a single-pass full critique (100k words or less) if someone donates 100 pounds (or more). Up to two of these are available! Contact her at alex.yuschik at gmail dot com.

If you’re an author, blogger, intern, editor, or agent and have anything you could donate to this (critiques, books, ARCs, consultations, or pretty much anything else), please get in touch with me at markobrienbooks at gmail dot com. If we get significant interest, we’ll set up a more official page.

Thank you all. So much love.