Spoiler Alert: This review contains some spoilers.
Simon Spier is a sixteen-year old high school student, residing in Shady Creek. Martin, a fellow classmate, tells him that he has screenshots of Simon’s email to Blue which reveal their gay identity. He blackmails Simon in the hopes of getting a date with Abby. At the threat of being outed, Simon worries about his possible relationship with Blue, while he helps out his blackmailer to avoid being outed.
The story immediately starts off with the blackmailing incident. I found this to be a little disappointing, as there was no setting depicted beforehand. I have no clue on who Simon was or what Shady Creek is about. All I know is that Simon has this secret that he is gay, and that Martin is blackmailing him. For Simon, coming out isn’t as dangerous or that big of a deal, which makes this story different than the more dramatic and cliche story-lines out there.
The rest of the story is somewhat lacklustre, remaining at a surface level. The author’s dedication to diversity, a world where of acceptance and zero-tolerance to bullying portrays a risk of a plateau. Reflecting after reading, the high-school drama (and the blackmail) seemed to be a bigger part of the story than coming out or being a relationship were.
The Trope of Avoiding Tropes
What I admired is that the author has drifted away from the usual stereotypes and clichés. Upon the first chapter, one would expect the story to be very predictable with the blackmail and rampant homophobia, but this is not the case. It’s a great way to show queer people that there are accepting families and friends, and thus it is quite representative of modern societies. It acknowledges that things are harder for some individuals. Yet, that makes the story somewhat unexciting. At the expense of avoiding certain tropes of rejection and character stereotypes, the author ends up on the other spectrum of predictability. The happy-ever-after comes way too easily with seemingly minor obstacles, and thus the ‘climax’ is barely as triumphant as it could have been.
As I mentioned, the story starts immediately with a changed scenario, so we are unable to know the characters beforehand. The question rises to whether it is who they are or whether this is what they are doing due to the situation. Simon, who declares himself as a nosy person, does not give us a lot of perspective of the people around him. As understanding that everyone has their secrets and their lives, it becomes a fault in that we do not really know those around him, almost as if Simon does not know them (or he is too self-centred).
The format of the book is split into two. We get (almost) alternating chapters. The first format is the typical first-person story of Simon. The other is smaller chapters of emails from Simon to the secret identity of Blue and vice-versa. As the emails were exchanged at a slow rate (sometimes days in between), this decision felt a little off. The emails are primarily a source of romanticism and do not give us valuable information. Undeniably, the emails are cute and made me “Awhhh” a couple of times. However, I’m not too in favour of this decision, as it creates a chronological gap between the other chapters.
The secretive Blue as well, seemed to be a weak character, as once revealed, appears to be a different character to how he portrayed his personality in the emails. For Simon, it was the same Blue, but as a reader, I felt that there was a lack of consistency. Blue’s identity was mysterious for the author to be able to mislead us on who the person is; however, that cost us with the lack of excitement upon revealing who he is.
Being indecisive, I am giving a rate of 3.5 stars. The characters were unique and pleasant but lacked a level of depth I’m used to. The story was representative and somewhat unique, up until the cliche climax/ending. Even though the emails were cute and romantic, I would have chosen to integrate them within the other writing, to enhance the temporal effect of the emails on Simon’s life. Nonetheless, it is a pleasant read, with thousands of readers falling in love with it much more than I did. Leah on the Offbeat is a Creekwood sequel, which I am vaguely interested in, but hold myself from
reading due to not loving the author’s writing style.
Note. Whenever teenagers spoke about Tumblr as “The Tumblr”, it made me cringe. It just sounds off.
Header Photograph: Cristina Gottardi
Header Editing: Jeremy Mifsud
Book Review: Jeremy Mifsud