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15 April 2023 SIMON SORT OF SAYS by Erin Bow, Disney/Hyperion, January 2023, 320p., ISBN: 978-1-36808285-3


Did you know that corpses fart? This was one of the many gross/bizarre facts I learned from SIMON SORT OF SAYS. I also learned how to simmer down rioting, runaway emus.


“‘Look, Isobel,’ says Dad, flapping his hands. ‘Agate has brought Simon a very surprising puppy.’

‘Oh really?’ says my mom. She opens the gate.

Over the edge of the hearse garage comes a furious hiss and then the questing head of our attack peacock.

Mom turns and throws her arms open, a kind of ‘come-at-me-bro’ gesture that has been known to give pause even to Pretty Stabby. ‘Don’t you dare,’ she says. ‘I will roast you like a Roman dinner.’

‘Hi, Mrs. O’Keeffe,’ says Agate.

‘A puppy, Agate…’ Mom answers. ‘That’s…’ She leans over the table, her hand on my shoulder. I look at the puppy, who is trying to chew off the strap that fastens his vest around his ribs. He has managed to work his whole lower jaw under it and is chomping busily. The puppy sees me looking and tries to look back, but his head is pinned against his chest now and he just topples over.

‘Hey, don’t do that,’ I say, and scoop up the little fuzz brain. I cradle his soft butt in the crook of one elbow and gently ease his jaw out of the strap. His needle teeth prick at my hand, and he slobbers on me. Aww, man. I wasn’t going to get attached, but the truth is I am in love even before the puppy, belly up in my arm, lets loose a little fountain of pee to claim me.

‘Oh boy,’ says Mom. And that’s how I get a puppy. I name him Hercules, son of Todd.”




Mirror shatters in formless reflections of matter

Glass hand dissolving in ice, petal flowers revolving

Lady in velvet recedes in the nights of good-bye

Shall we go, you and I while we can

Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?

– Grateful Dead, “Dark Star” (I was compelled to take a break from reading SIMON SORT OF SAYS because my tears were spilling into the library’s copy of this book. I refocused myself by listening to the 3/28/73 live recording of this song on Youtube.)


Twelve-year-old Simon O’Keeffe is the new kid in town. After a year of homeschooling, at their old house in Omaha, Simon and his parents have moved to Grin and Bear It, Nebraska, a little burg in the National Quiet Zone. It’s an odd place where half of the townspeople  (Team Science) are astrophysicists who, for the past forty years, have been employing radio telescopes to listen–without success–for messages from outer space. For the sake of science, the town is free of internet, TV and radio signals, and microwaves. 


The other half of the town (Team Farm) are the townies–farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, etc. 


Simon’s father is a Catholic deacon who plays the sackbut trombone for fun and who was fired from his previous job thanks to an uproariously disastrous Feast of Saint Francis/Blessing of the Animals church ceremony that got out of hand because of the alpacas with whom a parishioner showed up. (The fiasco had apparently gone viral on Youtube.) Simon’s mother is a mortician and the family has purchased the town’s old funeral home (Slaughter and Sons) and moved into the upstairs living quarters. Along with the house, they inherit the irritable, love-seeking male peafowl referred to as Pretty Stabby.


For the first third of the book SIMON SORT OF SAY is a sweet, quirky, frequently laugh-out-loud tale focused on Simon and his two new friends (reminiscent of the Harry, Ron, and Hermione dynamics). 


Chubby, frizzy-carrot-orange-haired Agate Van der Zwaan, is a farm kid who, along with her sibs, is named after varieties of rock formations. Their farm brood includes angora goats, ducks, and golden retrievers that are bred and raised to serve as guide dogs. Agate gives Simon a puppy to raise and socialize as part of its training process. Meanwhile, the Ron-like character is Kevin Matapang, who is the offspring of one of the scientists. 


I didn’t read the flap copy ahead of time, so I got the full effect of the big surprise. Partway through the tale, we come to learn that Simon is the sole survivor of a mass school shooting that randomly took place in his then-classroom, two years earlier back in Omaha. He survived by playing dead at the bottom of a mound of truly-dead classmates.


SIMON SORT OF SAYS is a stunning, absolutely groundbreaking tale for nine- to twelve-year-olds. It is beyond brilliant how the author addresses the horror of the mass shootings that seem to take place across America a couple of times a week in such an age-appropriate manner.  


Simon and his parents are all suffering from PTSD, and a fear of the press. Real-life mass shootings are one of the most f-ed up aspects of twenty-first century American life, and I know of no other book for tweens that begins to approach this unfortunate fact of life with the grace and wisdom that is displayed here. It’s impossible for me to overstate the power and importance of this book, the gun control issues that lurk behind the camaraderie of these three kids and the puppy who is willing to follow his beloved young master everywhere. The backmatter includes resources for dealing with trauma and PTSD. 


This is an absolute first-purchase.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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