Review of Simon Sort of Says, by Erin Bow

Simon Sort of Says

by Erin Bow
read by Will Collyer

Disney Hyperion, 2023. 7 hours, 40 minutes.
Review written August 21, 2023, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

Ever since I was on the 2019 Newbery committee, I’m convinced that I’m not any good at figuring out which book will win the Newbery Medal on any given year — but I believe I am very good at identifying books that will be considered by the committee. Simon Sort of Says is one such book. I have no idea if it will win or get honor, but this is a book the Newbery committee will surely discuss. And a book those who love children’s books will love to read.

It’s got so many wonderful ingredients: Quirky characters who seem more realistic because of those quirks, a new kid in school at a very distinctive place, loving parents but kid-centric adventures, a main character who’s exceedingly likable, plenty of humor, and a serious theme dealt with realistically and sensitively. Hmmm. Listing the ingredients doesn’t convey how wonderful this book is.

Simon Sort of Says is about 12-year-old Simon O’Keeffe, who’s moving with his family to Grin and Bear It, Nebraska, part of the National Quiet Zone. [Note: The real National Radio Quiet Zone is in West Virginia. So this is a fictional town.] It’s a center for radio telescopes, astronomers, and back-to-nature types. But what Simon loves about it is that nobody has internet access. Okay, he’d like internet access himself, but if none of his classmates have it, no one will have found him on the internet, for that thing that happened two years ago and left him traumatized. Instead, he tells his new class that his family moved there because of the Alpaca Disaster when his father, a lay official with the Catholic church, was overseeing the Blessing of the Pets. Now his father works at the Catholic church in Grin and Bear It, and his mother is the new funeral director, with the family living over the funeral home.

The book begins with new-school stuff and making new friends. Especially notable is Agate, who comes from a very large family who lives on a farm. She’s brilliant, and immediately enlists Simon into a scheme to fake a message from aliens – believing that will encourage the radio astronomers. She also gives Simon a puppy to train to be a therapy dog. And it turns out the puppy is very helpful for Simon.

Okay, that description doesn’t convey the charm of this book either. I can talk about some of the quirky incidents: A peacock named Pretty Stabby. A dog named Todd who opens the refrigerator and gets himself a beer. Emus on the loose that have to be “attracted” rather than forcibly herded. A squirrel that ate the consecrated host — which Simon’s father didn’t find out about until he was leading Communion.

Now, let me also say that I hate that a book about a traumatized kid is completely realistic in this day and age. But I love that this book shows the traumatized kid finding friends, healing, and joy. And a puppy!

This is a truly wonderful book that I already want to read over again.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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