SIMON SORT OF SAYS, by Erin Bow, Disney-Hyperion, Jan. 31, 2023, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 9-12)
A boy and his family try to cope with the aftermath of a school shooting in Simon Sort of Says, by Erin Bow.
Simon O’Keeffe’s biggest claim to fame should be the time his dad accidentally gave a squirrel a holy sacrament. Or maybe the alpaca disaster that went viral on YouTube. But the story the whole world wants to tell about Simon is the one he’d do anything to forget: the story in which he’s the only kid in his class who survived a school shooting.
Two years after the infamous event, 12-year-old Simon and his family move to the National Quiet Zone ― the only place in America where the internet is banned. Instead of talking about Simon, the astronomers who flock to the area are busy listening for signs of life in space. And when Simon makes a friend who’s determined to give the scientists what they’re looking for, he’ll finally have the chance to spin a new story for the world to tell. —Synopsis provided by Disney-Hyperion
At the center of Simon Sort of Says is Simon, a likeable character who, at the beginning, seems like a quirky kid with quirky parents who has moved to a quirky place. And you keep thinking that for about a third of the book.
Then things start to get really heavy. PTSD looms. Everything has a little more weight to it.
And if author Erin Bow stopped there, Simon Sort of Says would be a failure. But she doesn’t stop there. Instead, she gives Simon the support system he needs in the form of loving parents and new and unexpected friends. She gives him a project that pushes things forward. And a bunch of animal elements brighten the entire book.
There are a few plot holes that were obvious to me, but probably won’t bother younger readers. Among those is the fact that not a single person in town knows Simon’s story. You’d think at least the school principal would know based on school records.
Bow does, however, redeem herself when it comes to her exploration of trauma, anxiety and moving forward. Her thoughtful touch when it comes to this is excellent.
Simon Sort of Says is a hard book to read. It’s the sort of book that will either strongly resonate with readers or leave them with anxieties of their own. I suggest parents read this prior to handing it to their kids or at least read it with them. It’s a book that will prompt a lot of discussion.
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