I first read A Court of Thorns and Roses last year when I received a review copy from the publisher. I immediately loved its rich, nuanced world-building, fiery characters, and dark subplot. Sarah J. Maas is the queen of modern young adult fantasy and I couldn’t wait to reread this beautiful fairy tale. As for Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda? My co-worker had been not-so-subtly trying to force me to read it for the better part of six month. I generally ignored her suggestion and when I learned that it was the winner of the previous round, we both found it amusing that the cosmos seemed pre-determined; I would have to read this book.
In A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas weaves fairy tale retellings with her classic Fae characters. The result is a dark, seductive, creative re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast that will leave you breathless. Feyre has nothing but the charge of providing for her family. Her two sisters and invalid father, she’s responsible for their survival in the harsh human realm. When she mistakenly hunts and kills a Fae disguised as a wolf in the woods, Feyre is bound to repay the debt for the life she ended. Dragged to a magical land that is fraught with treachery and deception, Feyre learns from her captor, Tamlin, and immortal shapeshifter and High Fae, that she will never return to her homeland. Soon, Feyre’s relationship with Tamlin evolves into something neither of them expected. She realizes that her captor is also a captive and that there are forces at work much darker than she could have ever imagined.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is a witty contemporary drama about a gay teen handling evolving identities, self-acceptance, and love. When Simon Spier’s emails fall into the wrong hands, he worries that his online friendship with Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised. Funny guy Martin, demands that Simon hook him up with Abby, the cute new girl, or he’ll reveal Simon’s true identity to their entire school. Simon’s life soon gets really complicated when he finds himself pulled out of his comfort zone and into something entirely new. As his closeness with Blue continues to grow deeper, Simon realizes that he must accept his own story and identity before he’s outed by a class clown.
Despite both books being from two very different YA genres, they both deal with protagonists that must find their way through trying circumstances. Both Simon and Feyre realize their own strength and identities despite outward pressure to fail or reject their true natures. While I am a huge fantasy fan, I was struck with how developed and “real” the characters in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda were. By the end of the novel, you feel as though you are a part of Simon’s life. I loved his obsession with Oreos and Elliott Smith, and that Albertalli alternated chapters with snippets of their emails to each other. The reader can see the connection between both of them so clearly and I soon found myself anxiously awaiting the next email chain. While I felt that the ending was a little too happily-ever-after for me, I believe that it’s important to have positive LGBTQ novels available for teens to read. In the end, Simon realized that his initial apprehension was not about external reactions to his coming out. He knew he would have to handle occasional bullies, and he was secure in the acceptance of friends and family. Simon found that he was his own worst enemy, and his emails with Blue helped him understand that this is who he is. Simon’s story is about accepting and being ok with who you are, and that is a seriously powerful message.
WINNER: SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA BY BECKY ALBERTALLI
Reviewed by Elise Martinez, Zion-Benton Public Library