A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Prime numbers are important to the story. Lots of detail about SETI and scientists who listen for signals from other planets -- and the amount of research and hard work it takes to fake them out. Also lots (often gross) about the mortician's trade; also raising emus, ducks, goats, and guide dogs. Much arcane knowledge about Catholic saints, including Simon's thought that a lot of them seem to have become saints by having really awful things happen to them.
Strong messages of friendship, acceptance, empathy, and especially being there for the ones you love in the way they need you to be there. Also being willing to make amends when you get it wrong.
Positive Role Models
All the characters, adult and kid, are quirky and dealing with issues of their own. They mean well, but often get it wrong, and problems ensue. Simon's just trying to rebuild a life, his mom is a wisecracking mortician who's lost her faith in the wake of the shooting, while his dad is a Catholic deacon and fount of sermons and dad jokes. Agate comes from a large family that celebrates individualism, avoids artificial ingredients, and raises farm animals. Sporty Kevin has an achievement-mad mom and an easygoing dad. All the kids wind up helping out in the family business, whether it's a mortuary, a farm, or a halo halo shop. Herc, the guide dog puppy trainee, is a true and loyal friend to Simon when he most needs it.
Simon's presumably White, though he notes at one point he's a couple shades darker than Agate, who's pale and red-headed. Their friend Kevin's dad, a scientist by training, is Filipino and runs a halo halo shop, while his mom is a White astrophysicist. Judging by their names, the victims of the school shooting are ethnically and racially diverse. The town is more or less divided into the Science and Farm camps, and different families have different ways of doing things. For instance, Agate's family avoids artificial food ingredients and raises Angora goats, while Kevin's is obsessed with coding and science fairs. Agate is larger than her peers and body-positive; she announces that she's "an autistic person" and often shares useful tips from her counselors. A character wears a Hogwarts Trans Pride T-shirt.
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Violence & Scariness
Simon is the sole survivor of a school shooting that took all his friends in fifth grade, and flashbacks throughout the story convey the horror and long-lasting trauma. The original media circus, and the new circus once Simon's story comes to light, brings a lot of emotional violence from the smarmy, well-meaning, and self-important -- as a kid tells his mom, who launched all the ribbons and teddy bears, "Did you think about Simon when you told everybody about what happened to him? Are you thinking about him now? Because he's hurt, Mom, Simon and Agate got hurt, and you're still talking about science." Assorted injuries along the way from close encounters with emus, falling out of tree houses, and the like. Some detail about Catholic martyrs and the gory things that happened to them. A squirrel is struck and killed by lightning.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Tween characters hold hands, more for mutual support than romance, though there's a suggestion of romance in their future. Agate, who's into sharing gross facts, passes along one about duck penises. Simon, also into gross facts, informs his friends that a wise mortician uses duct tape to tape down women's breasts before embalming them.
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"Crap," "jerk-wad." Simon and Agate have a running contest for who can come up with the most disgusting fact, and also Simon's mom is a mortician, so there's a lot of gross-out and macabre humor, like about carting around embalming fluid, learning that corpses fart, and dealing with an inept assistant who keeps losing bodies.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A dog drinks beer for pain management.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Simon Sort of Says, by Erin Bow (The Scorpion Rules), is a tragicomic, ultimately uplifting tale of a 12-year-old facing regular middle school problems. He's also the only survivor of a notorious school shooting, his mom's a mortician, his dad's a Catholic deacon, and they've all moved to an internet-free town where no one knows their story so they can live in peace, and maybe heal. There's a lot of macabre humor, a lot of religious humor, a lot of macabre religious humor, plus an ongoing gross-out contest among friends that results in way too much information about the reproductive systems of farm animals and the tendency of corpses to fart. Friendship, kindness, and empathy are strong themes as Simon's new friends learn his story and the bonds between them strengthen. There's a lot about science, prime numbers, farm animals, and clever strategies for faking messages from outer space. The gradually revealed trauma of the massacre looms large, both when the victims are trying to keep it quiet and when everybody knows, and Simon is victimized anew with smarmy displays of ribbons and teddy bears.
Is It Any Good?
Author Erin Bow creates a darkly hilarious, ludicrously poignant tale of family, friendship, corpses, emus, and space aliens, as seen by a 12-year-old who's the sole survivor of a school massacre. Between the science, the religion (Catholic), the funeral parlor, the farm animals, the traumatic flashbacks, and the day-to-day challenges of middle school, Simon Sort of Says finds its hero dealing with quite a lot. But also finding support from new friends amid tragicomic struggles, brilliant breakthroughs, and puppy snuggles.
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Our Editors Recommend
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