Over the summer, Mary and I read Becky Albertalli's The Upside of Unrequited for our Summer YA Book Club. If you didn't read our blog post about this novel or don't recall what we said, we both loved it, and we both said we really needed to get around to reading her first novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda one of these days.
So now picture me at the beginning of this week, Monday, March 12. It's nearly a year later, and Simon has been sitting on my shelf just waiting for me to make time for him, and the film version of the novel Love, Simon is set to hit theaters THIS COMING WEEKEND. So I do what any responsible grad student would do. I shirk all responsibilities, brew a cup of tea, snuggle into the couch with my cat and my Pua stuffed animal, and I read this book.
Dear reader, I could not put it down. I finished it in one sitting. And now that I've read the book and seen the movie adaptation, I need to talk about it.
So I'm a bit of a "book-splainer," meaning I love to be that smug person who explains post-movie all the ways the movie didn't fully capture what happened in the book. Basically, Game of Thrones was a dream come true for me up until the show passed up the material in the books. All of this to say, what follows includes some major gripes about what the movie got wrong about this book. I will, however, try to keep this fairly spoiler-free because YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. Okay, enough disclaimers. Here we go.
There's a lot that this movie gets right, and a lot of really great additional jokes. My favorite was the moment when Simon's girlfriend professes her love to him and he runs off to the bathroom to tell his mom to pick him up because kids are drinking. This joke is in the trailer, but in context it was even funnier. The casting, for the most part, was also phenomenal. These kids are adorable.
There's just one... major... glaring... problem with the casting. Look at the picture above. Would you call any of those actors fat?
Simon's best friend Leah (pictured left) is played by Katherine Langford, an actress probably most well-known for playing Hannah Baker in the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. She's great in that show, and she's equally excellent in this movie, but Leah in both Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and the forthcoming book Leah on the Offbeat is described as fat.
The way that Becky Albertalli has thus far dealt with fat characters in both of her novels is great. Just like any other characters, these people have friendships and desires and romances, and they're not solely defined by their body type. It's just one minor part of who they are. But it's an important part, because we live in a world that often attempts to exclude fat people from normal narratives. Fat teenagers are especially in need of representation in media because teens are infamously insecure in their own skin. Albertalli is giving fat teens a chance to see themselves in popular culture, and this movie is taking that away.
When I was looking up reviews of this movie, I was a little disappointed that no one seems to be talking about the thin-washing that's happening in this movie. The cover of Albertalli's new book is out, and it's pretty clear that Leah and Katherine Langford do not share the same body type.
Leah on the Offbeat doesn't come out until the end of April, but even without having read it yet, I can guarantee you that the Leah in this novel will have little to do with the interpretation of Leah in the movie Love, Simon. And for a movie that was so careful to include the different races and sexualities represented in the novel, it's upsetting that Love, Simon didn't take equal care to represent the different body types of the teens in the book and, you know, the real-life teens who are reading these books, excited to read about characters who are more like them.
There's one other thing about Leah in the movie that really detracted from her character for me. In the movie, she is in love with Simon. Again, having read the synopsis for Leah on the Offbeat and having read Albertalli's previous account of Leah's character, this crush on Simon just doesn't check out or make sense.
In the book, I love that Simon is able to have a close platonic relationship with Leah, even before she knows he's gay. In the movie, this friendship is cheapened by the forced sexual tension between these two characters. In the movie, Leah becomes angry at Simon not only because she feels left out when he doesn't come out to her but also because clearly he doesn't reciprocate her feelings. This was an added complication to the plot that 1) changed the really sweet friendship dynamics between Leah and Simon and 2) took away the focus from the issues that really matter in this story.
I don't want to come off as the type of person who always hates all changes in book to movie adaptations. As I said earlier, there's a lot of fun stuff the movie adds to the story that I really enjoyed. There are also a lot of changes that were made that make a whole lot of sense. For instance, a movie just doesn't have as much time to tackle all of the characters that a book does. So for the sake of streamlining the story, Love, Simon nixes Simon's older college-aged sister. In this version, he just has a little sister, which is fine. She's the one who is more important to the narrative.
Additionally, this version of Simon heightens the drama by having Simon being more of a hands-on meddler in his friends' lives and by making the Martin character even MORE OBNOXIOUS than he is in the book, which I didn't know was possible. There were other moments played up for more drama that I don't want to spoil for you. These changes kind of bothered me, but I also understand why a movie would want to be less subtle.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a novel with a lot of heart, so it makes sense that the film adaptation also has a lot of heart. Albertalli's characters are for the most part well-rendered in this film adaptation and by the end of the movie, I was hugging myself and saying "aww" aloud with every dramatic resolution. I couldn't help myself. This movie was sweet, but it's not likely the type of movie I'm going to remember when it comes to making my end-of-year lists in December.
The book, on the other hand, is really, really special.