I laughed. I cried. I thought. I laughed again. And I sighed when it was over. Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow (Disney Hyperion, January 2023) is an important story about a boy overcoming trauma in his life. By moving to the fictional Grin and Bear It, Nebraska, he is hoping his secret will stay safe. The town is in a “radio silence” zone, where scientists study radio signals to find messages from space, so all internet, microwaves, cell phones, and so forth are forbidden. No one needs to know who Simon is.
Simon O’Keefe’s secret is that he was the lone survivor of a school shooting. It’s been two years now, and he’s hoping that in the National Quiet Zone people won’t remember his name. Hiding under the radar doesn’t work when he meets Agate, though. Agate is not shy in declaring that she is a person with autism, and she is a person who doesn’t care what other people think. She hatches a plan that includes Simon, and Simon goes along with it. He decides that this is his chance to make new news, rather than being remembered for his tragedy.
As you can expect, the story does eventually get out and people begin to confront him about this situation. Now that Simon has developed some friendship, especially the friendship with Agate, who takes everyone as they are, Simon is better able to deal with his history. Just as Agate takes control of her own personality, Simon knows he can do the same. He doesn’t just go along with what others do hiding under the radar (Simon Sort of Says), but he’s ready to make his own decisions (Simon Says).
Simon uses humor to get to know people in town, and Agate recognizes ways to help Simon, such as giving silly reasons for moving to Grin and Bear It. Although the basics of Simon’s trauma are tragic, the book is not tragic. Take a careful look at the cover. You’ll see a peacock. Emus. Giant radio towers. Lots of open space. Also consider that his mother is a funeral home director and his father is a deacon for the rural Catholic church and just know that there are many other funny parts too.
As I said, I both laughed and cried. Dealing with PTSD and discussing the horrific concept of a school shooting are certainly a weighty matter for kids to deal with. I finished the book and felt a sense of hope that the author was certainly aiming for. There was no trauma in the book itself.
It is truly unfortunate that we live in a world were such concepts feel essential for learning about. Simon Sort of Says is simply an all-around great book to read in this era we do live in.