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Boys Will Be… Knitters and Lovers and Funny, Oh My

Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda coverBoys Don't Knit coverSimon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli
Balzer + Bray, April 2015
Reviewed from ARC

Boys Don’t Knit, T.S. Easton
Feiwel and Friends, March 2015
Reviewed from final copy

It’s a twofer Monday, today, with two delightfully warm, funny, and frankly tender tales of boys grappling with what it means to be a boy, and also what it means to fall for someone.

Well well. I just wrote 900 words on these two wonderful books, and WordPress ate it. All of it below the read more tag, in fact. Despite the fact that I had saved it over and over. (Insert sad face emoji here, please.) And there is very little I find harder than writing something over when I’ve already written it, because the second go is never as good as the first.

So apologies in advance, because what was a long post with a lot of details is going to now be a recap of that post. (And I don’t know about you, but I prefer to see a thing first hand before I read the recap.)

Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda:

First, the cover. Fantastic. I said this at length and with some other thoughts about covers in general, but this is a recap, and the point of that paragraph was that this is a fab cover and deserves praise. (See also: comments on Joy’s post of last week.)

Second, the dynamics of the social group and the family: really good stuff. The friend dynamics were especially spot-on. And on the family dynamic front, one of my favorite coming out scenes, maybe ever. Also on the pro side, Simon’s sexuality is obviously a huge piece of the book, but it never overshadows all the other things that make him who he is.

On the other hand, I found it strange that he notes some things but then never really goes there again — and it’s all the things like racism (he comments on the essential segregation) and homophobia (he and Bram can’t hold hands in public, because it’s Georgia). He’s a kind of obsessive guy — witness the Elliot Smith tee shirt, the attempts to identify first Cal and then Martin as Blue — so the way he observes but doesn’t think on the unpleasant aspects of his world was either out of character (he’s so navel-gazing for much of the book — for reasonable reasons — that I might have expected Simon to completely miss it, but not to note it and not think about it) else or authorial intrusion. It’s a small flaw but it bothered me on the first read and even more on the second.

Conclusion: This is an excellent debut and a great read. It has four stars and I totally see why, but in the end it struck me as just a little middle of the pack, although when the pack is the top 100 or so books of the year, it’s a hell of a pack to run with.

Boys Don’t Knit:

FUNNY! Which, frankly, is the biggest pro AND the biggest con, because funny never wins. But this is the kind of funny that makes you laugh, and it’s funny twice over — Ben is funny; he says things in witty ways — and also the novel is full of funny moments.

I said smart things about the slightly exaggerated situational comedy of this one. (You’ll have to take my word for it, tho, because this is a recap and recaps tend to lack sufficient textual evidence.) Everything is basically just a little bigger and brighter, like it’s been written with a really great Instagram filter in place. It’s smart and silly and has that Bridget Jones/Georgia Nicholson/Adrian Mole unquestionably English thing, which if you like it — I do — is done just perfectly here.

It also has some nice depth about what it means to not conform to societal standards — in this case, of masculinity. Nothing earth shattering, because it’s handled pretty lightly and resolves pretty easily (it’s a funny book, after all) but all to the good, and it’s nice to have some thematic meat in something that makes a reader laugh out loud.

Flaws? I did think the way Ben’s obsessive worrying was handled more as humor than serious was — well, this is probably just that I am an old woman who spends my days worrying about teens, but that was a little off-putting. (And is it me, or is mental health the YA leitmotif this year? Better than cancer, I guess.) (I should also note that in the original version of that thought I included a pointer to Challenger Deep, where mental health is way more than leitmotif, because it’s an excellent book and no one has commented on that post. The original link was more subtle). Also the final set-piece takes the slightly exaggerated and turns it up to 12, but it was funny and the crescendo works, I think, although I imagine that could be the basis of a fairly heated argument if this actually made it to the table.

Conclusion: while this was a book I personally loved, I think the funny never holds up well against the serious contenders. However, I’m very much hoping the rest of Easton’s work makes its way across the pond.

BUT: these are lauded books with lots of love and some buzz — Simon is on the NBA longlist! So maybe I am totally wrong about them (especially about Simon). Tell me why.

About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.


  1. I really liked Boys Don’t Knit and found it cute and funny and touching but there are SO many mistakes about knitting in it, even if you allow for a fair bit of humorous exaggeration. (For example: warps and wefts are a thing in weaving, not in knitting; and although needles do come in UK sizes and American sizes, you don’t need to buy two sets of needles, you just need to look up on Google how to convert them.) And it’s really almost impossible to make money knitting on Etsy unless you get almost nothing for your labor; garment companies can get yarn for so much cheaper than home knitters can, so when you buy hand knits on Etsy you’re not just paying for labor, you’re paying for a big markup on the yarn.

    Will that carry weight with the RealCommittee? Well… librarians might be just a slight bit likelier than average to be knitters…

    My biggest problem with the book, though, is that “kid has activity the parent disapproves of, but surprise, the parent comes and cheers for them at the big competition” is something I’ve seen about twenty or thirty times before. Again, I really liked the book! But I would be very surprised if the RealCommittee found it Printz-worthy.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Well, this brings the book down in my estimation! Funny is one thing, and a long shot at best, but actual inaccuracies are just a flaw, no debate.
      I didn’t mind the trope of the dad coming through because it totally feels inevitable here, but you are totally right, it has been done a thousand times.

  2. Anne Bennett says:

    Simon has simmer pretty well in my brain since I read it in early July, which I can’t say for all the books I read this summer. It is currently the most requested book in my library. I know the school ear isn’t long but so far kids have been clamoring for this one and the only promo I’ve done is post a little display with pictures of about ten books they might want to check out. Simon is in that list of books. I kind of doubt it will be an award this year, but we have added it to our Mock Printz list.

    I couldn’t make myself finish Boys Knit. The funny bits just seemed stupid to me or as if the author was trying too hard. So I shouldn’t really just it since I only read about 50 pages of it.

  3. I loved Simon, big time– but you know how I feel about romantic realistic fiction! I thought the writing was really sharp, and the supporting characters (which easily could’ve just been collections of quirks) were fleshed out nicely. But really, I just thought it was funny and swoony. I think, for award purposes, that it might be a touch slight (just a touch), but I really hope it’s at least in contention.


  1. […] Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, written by Becky Albertalli is the 2016 Morris Award winner. The book is published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publisher. […]

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