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: Deadma Walking

"Deadma Walking"

John and Mark are gay beshies for life whose friendship is put to the test when one of them has a terminal illness and asks the other to help him stage his fake death, wake, and funeral as his dying wish. The result is a comedy of ‘deadly’ proportions.

There aren’t a lot of instances when one would say that the movie adaptation is better than the book it originated from. But this is definitely one of those instances.

Deadma Walking was one of the more entertaining films during the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival–which is why, when my friend A Messy Desk gave me a copy of the published screenplay that film was based of, I immediately started reading it…and started applauding the changes made to the material to make it more palatable to viewers.

It’s not that the original material was bad… It’s just very heavy-handed. And it misses a lot of opportunities at the same time. That said, the final film version also manages to miss the same opportunities–but the actors really do a lot to save the screenplay’s less-than-stellar parts.

But this isn’t supposed to be a comparison. I’m writing about the version that was published–which is different from the one people got to see on screen, and is also different from the one that won an award.

Deadma Walking, the published screenplay, is a work in progress. The emotional meat of the story is there, and the characters of John and Mark are funny enough that you’ll be able to latch on to their crazy antics. But most of the time, it felt like reading a person’s inner thoughts without filters. It rambles. On and on. And there are a lot of plot developments that need to happen earlier, but don’t.

It’s a good screenplay, to be completely fair. It’s just doesn’t feel like a final draft. Just one that needed to exist because an editor was probably breathing down the writer’s neck, to get him to cough up a version before a printer’s deadline.

Final verdict? If you’re going to read this book, make sure to lower your expectations.

Book: Hold Me Closer

"Hold Me Closer"

Watch out, ex-boyfriends, and get out of the way, homophobic coaches. Tiny Cooper has something to say–and he’s going to say it in a song.

Filled with honestly, humor, and ‘big, lively, belty’ musical numbers, Hold Me Closer is the no-holds-barred (and many-bars-held) entirety of the beloved musical first introduced in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the award-winning bestseller by John Green and David Levithan.

Tiny Cooper is finally taking center stage…and the world will never be the same again.

What in the world did I just put down?

Hold Me Closer: the Tiny Cooper Story spins off from one of the few John Green novels I could stand: Will Grayson, Will Grayson–and I credit David Levithan for this. So when I found out that Levithan was releasing a book based on the most entertaining character off the Will Grayson book, I thought it would be a fun read. I wish I could say I was right.

I wasn’t wrong, let’s be clear. Hold Me Closer is not in any way a bad book. It is entertaining. But it’s definitely not the book I was expecting from David Levithan. Then again, I wasn’t expecting Every You, Every Me either–so it’s not like this was unprecedented. But unlike Every You, Every Me, I can’t fathom why Levithan would write this book. It’s not experimental. It’s not ground-breaking.

Hold Me Closer brings nothing new to the table, and I feel like I wasted the five hours I spent reading it.

The book isn’t actually a book in the most traditional sense. It is a book–for a musical Tiny Cooper wrote in the Will Grayson, Will Grayson book. But it’s not a new story. Its Tiny Cooper’s life told with songs. And we’ve already had a glimpse of Tiny Cooper’s life in the aforementioned book. The worst part is how this book ends before the source book does. So there really is nothing new in Hold Me Closer.

I guess that’s the risk of doing something like this: publishing a plot device, and pushing it to stand on its own. You have to rely on readers’ nostalgia and good will. But you know what else you can do? Give something new. In the source book, we only get glimpses of Hold Me Closer. So it shouldn’t have been hard to do. But the spin-off didn’t spin. It just took parts of the source book we already know and put it to song. And dialogue. And stage direction.

Hold Me Closer is entertaining. I’ll still give it that. But at the end of the day, for a book to be good, there has to be substance. Which I didn’t see or feel while reading this book. I guess I’ll just have to be grateful that the book wasn’t longer.

Of course, other people will have other opinions about the book too. Let’s check some of them out in the following links:
Caught Read H&nded
The Young Folks

Book: On the Count of Three

"On the Count of Three"

When Nina comes back from the first ever Summer that she’s been separate from her two best friends in the world, Avery and Mel, she has huge news. She met an amazing guy during her leadership program in California and she’s literally counting the hours until she gets to see him again. But Mel and Avery are acting strange–they don’t react to her homecoming as she expects. Suddenly she’s an outsider, and she has no idea why.

Turns out something huge happened while Nina was away. Mel had her first kiss.

With Avery.

I plead guilty. Yes, I have been looking for LGBT novels to help me with writing scripts for My Husband’s Lover. I’ve been talking to LGBT people too, of all sexes. The fun thing about doing this? I get to meet a lot of new people, I learn about so many new things–and I get to discover books like this.

Granted, On the Count of Three isn’t really an LGBT novel. It focuses more on friendship and coming of age–it just so happens that it has a lesbian character. And I’m actually very happy about this. Because it doesn’t make an issue about being gay. Well–

Sure, the book tackles homosexuality. But it does it in such a way that’s not at all preachy, or all-knowing, or whatever. It doesn’t look down on it, nor does it put it up on a pedestal. Author Maureen Johnson treats it like an everyday thing. Like it’s normal.

Because it is normal.

Once we get past the characters’ initial shock at having a lesbian among their midst, it’s business as usual: angst, love, and the entire spectrum of teenage drama come parading down.

Do I think it’s a good book? Yes. More than the fact that it treats the lesbian character as a normal character, I believe that the book has a nice statement: that friends can come and go, but in the end, it’s up to you to keep hold of them. That friendship isn’t something you can take for granted, that you have to work for it. And that friendship can be destroyed–but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

On the Count of Three also goes by the title The Bermudez Triangle, by the way. I prefer the first title because the book isn’t just about Nina Bermudez, our anchor. Conflicting, I know. How can the book not be about Nina when she’s also our anchor? Well, while the novel is her story mainly, it’s also the story of Mel and Avery, her friends. We can even say that it’s the story of Parker–a guy they meet and befriend. And while they’re a part of the triangle, they’re not Bermudezes. And On the Count of Three actually has a meaning attached to it, which may not be apparent to everyone.

Going back to the story, I do have one minor complaint about the book: the Nina chapters at the beginning. They’re kind of boring. I get that we’re trying to establish the normalcy in Nina’s life, but this causes a problem for me since I believe that Nina isn’t more of a main character than Mel and Avery. The three of them, in my opinion, are given the same weight in propelling the story. Take any one of them out, and the whole thing might collapse.

So when we begin with Nina being all lovey-dovey with Steve, a relationship we won’t see much in the succeeding chapters, I can’t help but feel as if my time was wasted on reading about Steve. Steve who from then on mainly serves as Nina’s sounding board.

And, well, the chapters with Nina and Steve falling in love were really boring. And Nina is grating whenever Steve is involved.

Aside from this though, the novel is A+ in my book. It tackles the issue of friendship in a manner few books do: realistically. It helped, I guess, that all three friends are main characters. The other two aren’t just hanger ons. They’re their own characters too. They’re as three-dimensional as our anchor.

Which is why the friendship story works for me.

Also, I really like how Maureen Johnson has structured the story in such a way that you would be okay with any kind of ending. The ending we get, the happily ever after, works because we see the roots of the friendship. And we see how different it is in the end, to what it was when we begin reading the book.

But had the author chosen to go a different route, to a not-as-happy ending, I think it would work though. That’s the power of having characters that are very complete. Of characters who all have journeys, and who all grew as people. You will be ready to accept whatever their fate is. Because they’re not the same people they were before. Because they may have changed, maybe not all for the better, but definitely for good.

Yes, I just quoted a musical line. Well, paraphrased. And I’m not sorry because it fits.

On the Count of Three is a great story about friendship and growing up. And it’s one I very much recommend to anyone looking for a good realistic story of what happens when we grow up, when we find ourselves diverging from the path we made with our friends.

But don’t just take my word for it. Find out what other people have said about the book as well:
Novel Attraction
Dragons, Robots, etc.

Book: Boy Meets Boy

"Boy Meets Boy"

I was the first openly gay president of my third-grade class. I have seen men holding hands walking down the street in a big city and I have read about women getting married in a state that’s not so far away. I have found a boy I might just love, and I have not run away. I believe that I can be anyone I might want to be. All these things give me strength.

Do you ever get that feeling where you think you know where a character is going? That awful feeling that a character you care about is about to do something really bad… and stupid?

Well, when you start a novel with a “For Tony” dedication, and you introduce a character called Tony who doesn’t seem to have a lot to be very happy about… Well, you worry.

Boy Meets Boy has the Tony character as its central figure, without his story being the focus of the story. Tony doesn’t even make a lot of appearances in the novel. But at its heart, this whole thing is about him–even when Paul, our actual main character, makes you feel it isn’t.

I feel like I’m confusing you. I probably am. But this is really how I think in real life, and I wanted to get a dialogue going, so I’ll just continue on. That all right with you?

If you’re still reading, I’ll take that as a yes.

Now, the book tells the story about Paul and Noah: how they meet one fateful night, how they fall in love, how they fall apart, and how they get each other back. For someone like me who hasn’t a romantic bone in his body, this was still a great love story because of the devices used. How the two meet, how they fall apart, and how Paul wins Noah back.

At the end of it all though, I thought Boy Meets Boy would’ve worked regardless of the characters’ gender.

That’s important.

You see, David Levithan’s book doesn’t discuss the taboo of gay love head on. In his Utopian town, everyone accepts everyone. Well, most everyone. So when you think about it, Paul could be a girl, or Noah could be a girl, or they could both be girls–and it wouldn’t matter. Their love is a simple love. It’s pure. And it’s really not the point story.

And this is the part that’s genius: David Levithan sets their love story up as a way to tell a story about acceptance.

I said it before: Tony is our central character even if he’s not our main one. Because it’s through him that we actually see character growth. It’s through him that we see the journey begin and end. And even with all the toppings in this fabulous pizza of a novel, Tony is the crust that holds everything together.

At the end of the novel, I wasn’t really concerned whether or not Paul would get Noah back. I knew he would. It was that kind of a love story. What mattered more to me was that Tony would be all right in the end. Tony was who needed my concern.

Because: you know how you get the feeling that you know what’s going to happen to a character, and you don’t what that thing to happen? You really feel relief when the author sees how important it is that he survive the novel. Not because he likes the character, but because that character is the one that needs to be a symbol of hope.

Of course, I could just be talking a whole load of crap. I’m not the author, and I don’t know if this was the intent. This is how the book spoke to me. And I am open to discuss with you guys what the book means to you.

So…? Let me know at the comments below!