Book: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

"Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda"

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly-gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an e-mail falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been e-mailing with, will be jeopardized.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his e-mail correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year had suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out–without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Would you believe it took a movie trailer to sell me on Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda? That said, I wasn’t even aware about this book’s existence until I saw the trailer. I really should schedule more trips to the bookstore. Then again, I should finish the books that are still waiting to be read first.

But first, let’s talk about the book that I have read:

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a good book; it’s well-written, well-paced, and the characters are not caricatures. Then again, that’s a given–the book did win an award from the American Library Association. So it also shouldn’t be a surprise that the book is all kinds of great.

Not just one kind. All kinds.

See: LGBT stories are not usually for everyone. Yes, a lot of us can relate to the feeling of being alone, of being different, or being excluded–but at the end of it all, we don’t have the same problems. We don’t need to come out or have to endure taunts, teases, and bullying. But what’s great about this particular book is that, while it has the taunts, and teases, and bullying–it also has something that other LGBT stories struggle with: a dilemma that non-LGBT people can relate with. In this case: risking a possible happy ending to do what is right.

Simon is a not-so-openly gay teenager who is in love with someone still in the closet. That’s not something cis teens have to worry about–not even when they partners are of a different race, or a different age group. But the genius behind this book is in its premise: a teenager risk ruining a potential happily-ever-after by standing up to his blackmailer.

If you take out Simon’s gender preference, the story still holds. Sure, you’re still going to be reading about a gay teenager and his life–but the core emotion that pushes the story forward: that of wanting a happy ending and the fear of losing it is not gender-specific. It’s something that speaks to everyone. And that’s brilliant.

I loved the parents that Author Becky Albertalli gave our protagonist. They’re fun, but they also know when to draw the line. They’re a little too ideal, sure, but who wants to read about kids fighting with their parents? If the main premise revolved around that, why not–but when you’re reading a love story that has nothing to do with parental approval, adding a layer of disapproving parents can get pretty exhausting.

Simon, the character, can get infuriating at times. But I think that’s by design. He’s imperfect, marred by lack of experience and self-awareness–and it’s one of the reasons why he falls into the blackmailer’s hands in the first place, and the book addresses this.

His sexuality is treated as a matter of fact; there are no explorations, no questioning, and debating– The book establishes his homosexuality as a norm and quickly moves on to the premise of the novel: which is the blackmail, and Simon not wanting to lose his happy ending.

Honestly, reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is very refreshing. Sure, it still tackles characters having to come out, but other than that–it reads like other young adult romance novels. Two people fall in love, a problem presents itself, and a challenge is overcome for them to end up together. It’s an LGBT book that treats the LGBT like they should be treated: normally.

So I’m definitely putting this book on my list of recommended readings. And I’m also definitely looking forward to watching how it gets adapted into a movie. Because the trailer, as I already mentioned, is so good it got me to buy the book its movie is based on.

Book: Choco Chip Hips

"Choco Chip Hips"

Sixteen-year-old Jessie, a baking aficionado, is shy, overweight, and worries too much about what people think. One summer, a family emergency makes her realize that life is too short to live on autopilot. Taking her life by the reins, she embarks on a journey that involves ditching the apron for a tank top as she hip-hop dances her way to new friendships, stronger family ties, and into her school’s most elite club.

I love this. There is nothing in the book that made me want to put it down; nothing that made me scratch my head or question the characters motives; nothing in this that made me want to rewrite or restructure. I even love the back synopsis that sells the story: because it effectively encapsulates what the story is about, it doesn’t give anything away, and it doesn’t heavily feature something that turns out to only play a small part in the novel. Which a lot of local books are prone to doing.

Choco Chip Hips is one of the few books I’ve read that I love as is, and would recommend to all and any readers who are looking to read a Filipino work.

But what about the book is so special?

It has heart. The story of Jessie is something everyone can relate to–no matter the gender, the age, or the station in life. Sure, not all of us have family emergencies during a summer vacation that forces us to reevaluate our life choices– But we all feel the things she feels. Her insecurities, her doubts, and most importantly, her joys… They are universal. And author Agay Llanera taps into those things with a deft hand. Never does the book feel like it’s too preachy, but it’s never nonchalant about how it deals with Jessie’s very real issues.

I love how the romance we’re given doesn’t take center stage, with the book focusing more on Jessie’s character and struggles. Llanera’s writing celebrates Jessie as a character, and the love story is just one of the many things happening in her life. The love interest shares equal importance with her family and her best friend, showing a reality that’s often ignored in fictional books about coming of age: the love that pushes us to embrace who we are isn’t always romantic love.

So to everyone out there looking for a book to read: pick up Agay Llanera’s Choco Chip Hips. You will not regret it.

Book: Crash


Life’s too short to slow down, and no one knows this better than the young, the rich, and the screwed up.

In ‘The Faster They go…,’ the kids of The M of A and the P face the biggest, most dramatic situation their pretty heads and shiny hair have to fave ever: they are NOT invited to the biggest open party of the season! That sucks, really, especially if you already planned on who you’re wearing, right? Shit.

In ‘The Harder They Crash,’ things take a turn for the worse as they realize that surviving through the school year means dealing with the biggest threat they have to face: each other. With hearts racing, and hormones raging, there’s no stopping now.

Two exciting stories, one not quite unreal sequel. Brace yourself. You’re in for a ride.

I’m confused. It hasn’t been that long since I put down the first book in Siege Malvar’s Not Quite Unreal series, but I seem to have lost all grasp of what’s going on. Is it because the book doesn’t immediately pick up from the events of the first novel? Maybe.

What I do know is this: the writing is tighter, and characters are given space to breathe, even at the expense of diminished ‘screen time’ for others. Good things. Unfortunately, this also highlights the book’s weakness: its lack of focus.

Roles, the first novel off the Not Quite Unreal series, made the collective cast its main character. While everyone had different goals and different story lines, it all connected to one thing: the role image plays in the lives of people. Crash, on the other hand, had no uniting theme.

We know who the characters are. We know their dreams. We know where they are going. But, like Glee in Season 4, the characters don’t seem to know who they are in relation to each other anymore. It’s one major weakness that makes Crash pale in comparison to its predecessor. Because, suddenly, instead of having one major character, we have a bunch of minor ones who are scrambling at the tiny scraps of pages they are given to work with.

Crash lives up to its title. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing. The stories crash. And clash. And I wonder if this is the book the author wanted to write. Because while the writing is cleaner, it also doesn’t feel like the Malvar we read in Roles and Wakasang Wasak: books written before and after Crash, respectively.

What happened?

The book cuts off at another cliffhanger, pretty much promising a third book in the series. But seeing as Crash was published five years ago, one has to wonder what’s taking Visprint so long to publish it. Have they dropped the title? Or is Malvar taking his time in writing the follow up?

Whatever the answer may be, I just hope Malvar brings back the magic of Roles that he lost in Crash: the sense of unity that made readers want to like this bunch of unlikeable rich kids.

Book: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

"Will Grayson, Will Grayson"

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers cross paths. Two teens with the same name, running in two very different circles, suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, culminating in heroic turns-of-heart and the most epic musical ever to grace the high school stage.

I have to say, out of all the John Green novels I’ve read–this one is the best. Maybe it’s because he wrote it with someone else. But I think–I hope–he does take something from this exercise. I haven’t read his latest book yet, so I wouldn’t know. But Will Grayson, Will Grayson takes off so much from other Green novels because the author is forced to include three new characters that aren’t part of his hit formula.

In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, we get two characters with the same name but are from the different sides of the personality spectrum. The funny thing is, the two are essentially the same–except, they dealt with their fears and insecurities differently. One unconsciously became a shadow of a much bigger personality, while the other rejected all offers of connection.

David Leviathan’s Will Grayson is the latter. And he’s the more interesting character, in my opinion, because he’s filled with so much self-hatred that it pours of him–and it affects his relationship with everyone. And he tries so hard not to care, but he can’t help but do. Especially when it comes to his mother. Whereas John Green’s Will Grayson is of the stereotype the author has created for all his heroes. A little quirky, unpopular, friends with someone big (this time, literally and figuratively), and hopelessly in love with a girl too cool for him. Forced to face each other, the two Will Graysons bring out something different.

And that’s when the book became interesting.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, unlike other John Green novels isn’t just about coming of age. While it is that, it focuses more on the importance of connection. How other people affect us, and how we (in turn) affect them.

What I like about it the most is it’s a young adult novel that doesn’t celebrate standing out. Because, really, not everyone can stand out. What makes any one of us special, if all of us are special? This book talks about how, no matter how different you might be, you have someone you’re the same with. Whether by interest, by love, by family–or, by name. And yet, at the same time, the things that make us common are the things that make us who we are. It’s the things that shape who we become.

And in the era of the me generation, a story about people who help someone else stand out, is the one that stands out the most.

From the books I’ve read this year, Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a clear front runner for being a favorite.

But what do other people think?
A Little Shelf of Heaven
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
YouTube: Book Review

Movie: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

Based on the best-selling novel by Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a modern classic that captures the dizzying highs and crushing lows of growing up. Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a moving tale of love, loss, fear and hope-and the unforgettable friends that help us through life.

No expectations. That’s very important when watching movies adapted from books. But I’m not always successful with, even, lowering expectations. Especially with books I really liked. And I failed once again while watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But you know? It didn’t matter.

Adaptations have a tendency to cram everything loved from a book into the film version. This movie doesn’t do that. Maybe it’s because the person who wrote and directed the movie was also the person who wrote the book. He knew what needed to be in the film. And he knew what it could do without.

Whatever reservations I had for the book didn’t materialize while watching the film adaptation. Unlike the novel, the movie didn’t feel like it was just another coming-of-age film. From the moment it opens, you could feel its identity.

And that’s another thing I liked about the book that I forgot to mention. While it felt run-of-the-mill at first, it quickly established its own identity.

Which then translated really well on screen.

Again, maybe it’s because it’s not a direct adaptation. Maybe it’s because the author was also the creative mind and hand behind the movie.

At the end of the day though, it doesn’t matter what may be the reason. What’s important is that the movie works.

I’m not a fan of Logan Lerman. Mostly because I didn’t really like the film adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and he’s front and center in that film. But in The Perks of Being a Wallflower though, Lerman plays a great lead.

I was afraid that Charlie’s problem of being too emotional would look weird once it’s off the pages. But Lerman plays the role with a quiet intensity that the crying does feel very natural. It’s not cinematic at all.

And the innocence he carries with him is so palpable that you really do believe that Charlie, even with his good looks, can be an outcast in their school.

The only problem I had with his acting was when he was kissing Emma Watson. Jealousy at him being able to kiss Emma Watson aside, he has a tendency to drop the innocence of Charlie whenever he kisses his leading lady. Or even the girl who plays his girlfriend. Thing is, if it had been just Sam (Emma Watson’s character) who he kisses without innocence, I think I would’ve let it go. It fits with the character anyway. But it’s not a one-off thing. And it really doesn’t fit the character he builds throughout the movie.

Emma Watson and Ezra Miller also shine in the movie. But I feel that, because the movie had to focus more on Charlie’s life, their characterization and arcs had to be sacrificed. Which, I feel, shafted the actors who were brilliant. But, for the sake of the movie, it was a wise decision. The film was much more focused than the book because of it.

The one actress who really does get shafted is Nina Dobrev. Her character is the one I really rooted for, while reading the book. She was the one who really had to go through sufferings to learn and become a better person. Which, seeing as the movie narrowed its focus on just Charlie, had to be cut out. And I understand. The movie is all the better for it.

But I still can’t help but feel sad that it had to be cut out.

What didn’t get cut out though, and which I really enjoyed, was The Rocky Horror Picture Show sequences. In the book, it had a much bigger significance, as it symbolized Charlie’s growing emotions. I’m not sure what it added to the movie though, aside from the eye-candy. And seeing people’s surprised reaction at the shot of Susan Sarandon singing “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me.”

Overall, I say the film is perfect. Even more so than the book. And this is the first time I’m saying this since The Lord of the Rings got translated into the big screen.

And it doesn’t matter if you’ve read the book or not. The movie doesn’t disappoint. I urge you to watch it.