That Blossom Books is a special publisher, becomes clear when despite the winter weather on Valentine’s Day the whole second floor of bookstore Het Colofon in Arnhem is completely filled. It’s their free Sunday afternoon, but nevertheless the book fans are discussing enthusiastically. Apart from their loyal fans Blossom Books characterizes itself as a publisher from a diverse amount of books, where the latest acquisition literally highlights the diversity in a positive way: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli.
When the book was published it already reached many lists for best YA book of the year. From Independent, Paste Magazine, Barnes & Noble to The Guardian and more, and on top of there where several nominations like the National Book Award and Carnegie Medal. The movie rights for Simon are also sold to Fox 2000.
This shows there are already many people who started to love Simon, just like Blossom Books: they love Simon and are committed to start the fight for diversity with him. The book itself i.e. is about the sixteen-year-old Simon Spier, who fancies boys. When an email to his online crush falls into wrong hands, his secret is at risk. The book deals with ‘compulsory’ coming out, because why would you actually have to explain your sexuality?
The Simon Movement
Publisher Myrthe Spiteri believes Simon vs. had to be published. Publishing the book with two covers, a red one and a blue one – according to writer Becky Albertalli the character Blue loves the blue cover the most and Simon the red one – is a part of the campaign #jointheSimonMovement. It’s not about the outside, but about the content inside, just like in real life it shouldn’t be about putting labels on people.
Furthermore the book meets the need for more diversity in the Young Adult genre. Marieke Nijkamp, Vice President of We Need Diverse Books, leads a discussion about that diversity with Myrthe, Tim, Sanne and the present readers. From the sharp reader’s questions can be deduced that there is still room for more diversity, because even though Simon brings attention to homosexuality in a relationship between two boys, there’s still a lack of book relationships between two girls. “With a relationship between two boys it’s like ‘Oh how cute that they can be who they are’, while when it’s about women some think that it might get too close, so we might not want to share about that anymore,” shares publisher Myrthe Spiteri her theory. “Maybe they think that women would rather read about something that they’re not.”
Rougly 80% of the readers are often female readers according to bookseller Tim Rooijers. Because of that there’s a main focus on these groups and what they want to read. “I don’t know anyone who chooses a book and won’t say about a boy ‘I really like him’. Those characters do sell, while with two gay characters you have two characters that people could like.”
The remainder of the YA agenda
Besides sexuality the public also gives an opinion about gender difference. “What I’m really missing is the diversity in friendship. When a boy and a girl are friends they’ll either end up in a relationship, or he’s gay.” There’s a sound of agreeing laughter. “That’s mostly just because a lot of people don’t believe in a platonic relationship,” says Myrthe.
There’s also a need for diversity in ethnicity from a girl who tells she’s half Dutch and half Chinese. “My whole life I’ve had to deal with the fact that people don’t see me as Chinese or Dutch. That’s something I’ve never seen in a book, where the main character is a half-blood – apart from the Half-Blood Prince in Harry Potter – and that it’s just accepted.”
Blossom Books published Joss Stirling’s Storm & Stone, in which the main character is half African American. Myrthe Spiteri shares one of her worst experiences she can’t understand. “We portrayed her on the cover and at some moment someone has said to us: are you sure you would do that? Then you’re just like, huh? You get comments like that as a publisher as well and that is so weird.” After that comparison the Harry Potter play is obviously mentioned, as an African American actress was cast for the part of Hermione; though in the book it was never described that she was white and still the association was automatically made by many readers. Another prove, together with all the raised hands in the room: there isn’t enough diversity in books just yet.
It was a spirited discussion with a clear message. During the break there’s some time to rest with delicious oreo cupcakes. The group moves to the floor downstairs in the shop to buy both red as blue Simon vs. copies or one of the linen bags.
Afterwards writer Becky Albertalli pays a virtual visit through Skype. She happily shows her framed fanart and her parent’s love for the Dutch covers. As a writer there’s the big question: how did she come up with the idea? According to Becky Simon was just there at some moment. “It started with the character for me, so I think over a period of time this character became more clear in my head, I just got to know his voice, it almost felt as if he told the story to me. It felt like I was following Simon into the story.”
Even though the English title mentions an agenda and she explains the usage of that words, she doesn’t say to have an agenda herself, for a part because she wrote the book before the ‘we need diverse books’ conversation started worldwide. “I think no matter what somebody’s interpretation of the book is, I’m excited about it, People are going to read different things in the book from their own experiences, especially with their own issues and favors I think someone’s experiences are going to be related to someone’s identity.” There’s no overarching message she hopes will come out of it, the message is open to interpretation. “I’m just really intersted in listening to what people are seeing in the book.”
With a reveal from the flipback version of the book it’s eventually time to say goodbye, with a little surprise from Becky’s side: a self-made Valentine’s card. Because of that there was still some sort of Valentine feeling for the attendees, but mostly inspiration, fun and diversity.
Are you going to read Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, or if you have already read it, what’s your opinion on the book?
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