Raise Your Voice 2016 with Caleb Roehrig

Raise Your Voice is a special annual month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader whose purpose is to celebrate diversity and inclusivity in literature, with a particular emphasis on #OwnVoices stories. In it, authors recommend books with sensitive, positive and accurate representation that will help to create a resource of diverse books that marginalized readers can turn to when they need them most. Your voice matters. Raise it! For a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates, click here.

About Caleb Roehrig

Caleb Roehrig is a writer and television producer originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having also lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Helsinki, Finland, he has a chronic case of wanderlust, and can recommend the best sights to see on a shoestring budget in over thirty countries. A former actor, Roehrig has experience on both sides of the camera, with a résumé that includes appearances on film and TV — as well as seven years in the stranger-than-fiction salt mines of reality television. In the name of earning a paycheck, he has: hung around a frozen cornfield in his underwear, partied with an actual rock-star, chatted with a scandal-plagued politician, and been menaced by a disgruntled ostrich.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

(You can add Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda to your Goodreads shelves Here!)

My sophomore year in high school, I found myself at a strange crossroads: after approximately fifteen years of believing myself to be straight, I suddenly found I could no longer deny an increasingly pronounced attraction to other guys. At first I told myself it was a phase I’d grow out of, like was suggested in developmental texts of the time; later — as the “phase” continued with no end in sight — I told myself it was irrelevant.

I was bi, I decided, and I was okay with that; I could deal with being bi. “Bi” meant I could still perform outwardly as straight — still get a girlfriend, get married, have kids, still be accepted by all the people that I knew. I was neither ashamed of nor disgusted by my feelings for other guys, per se, but I knew that to openly embrace those feelings would mean the end of everything I counted on.

Things have changed quite a bit since then. Eventually, I came out — losing some friends, but gaining others; I met a guy, fell in love, got married; and my family, the people I’ve needed most my whole life, have been there for me every step of the way. And yet the fact is that it still took years for me to finally realize and accept that I am not bi — that I am categorically (and happily!) gay.

Even now I sometimes struggle to articulate why. Part of the reason is that I didn’t grow up viewing myself as different than anybody else — and since everybody was straight, then obviously so was I. By the time I first even heard the term “gay” I was already firmly entrenched in the belief that I was attracted to girls; I knew which ones I got along with and which ones I didn’t, I knew which ones I thought were pretty, and I simply assumed that this was the extent of what Being Attracted To Girls meant.

In the face of what should have been totally obvious, I still couldn’t shake off fifteen years of an acculturated conviction that I was Attracted To Girls — a bit of cognitive dissonance that left me struggling to make doomed relationships work while attempting to stifle my true nature.

This is why representation is important, why young people need so badly to see themselves reflected — wholly, accurately, honestly — in the books intended for them. So many of my experiences would have been easier if someone could have handed fifteen-year-old me a novel in which I could have recognized myself. If it were possible, I would go back in time and give fifteen-year-old me a copy of one book in particular that would have changed my life for the better in ways I’m not even sure I can enumerate: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

In Becky Albertalli’s funny, moving, and insightful debut, Simon Spier — an achingly relatable teenage boy — is at a strange crossroads: inwardly, he accepts his attraction to other guys without any sense of shame or conflict; but, outwardly, he balks at acknowledging this, for fear of how it will fundamentally change his life. I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but Simon Spier is me; from his self-discovery to his theatrical pursuits to his middle child syndrome to his frequent habit of putting his foot in his mouth, Simon is a character that is so much like me it’s almost scary.

Beyond just the surface similarities, though, I could relate so profoundly to Simon’s inner conflicts, his voice, and the authenticity with which he navigated the too-familiar environment of a gay teenager searching for acceptance and understanding. There’s a scene that takes place as Simon is trying to figure out the real identity of Blue (the anonymous pen-pal who has stolen his heart), in which he links fingers with another boy. It’s a charged and coded gesture that happens in a moment of public celebration, a silent and secret conversation as Simon tries to determine if what he thinks is happening is really happening, and the inner journey he goes on in that instant was so true and so precise and so ripped-from-the-gay-headlines that it took my breath away.

Simon vs. is a book that today’s gay youth are incredibly lucky to have: a sweet and uplifting love story folded into an affirming, heartfelt, and utterly charming coming-of-age tale — a novel that not only takes a queer teenager’s life seriously, but gets it right. Albertalli is living proof that it’s possible to write beautifully and authentically outside of one’s life experience, and the care she took to nail down the details that made Simon so specifically real as a gay teenager is a testament to how deeply she cared about her subject matter.

Even as an adult, I still feel an impact when I see myself in the pages of a book — when I encounter a protagonist who has truly walked in my shoes, or who speaks a language meant just for my ears. Queer teenagers, who have so little access to this experience, are especially in need of it; and so it moves me deeply to think how fortunate they are to have books like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Title Last Seen Leaving
Author Caleb Roehrig
Pages 336 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary, LGBTQIA
Published October 4th, 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
Find It On GoodreadsAmazonChaptersThe Book Depository

Flynn’s girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own?

Flynn’s girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can’t answer, and her friends are telling stories that don’t add up. All eyes are on Flynn — as January’s boyfriend, he must know something.

But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January’s disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself.

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