The sequel to Simon vs. The Homosapiens Agenda, the book that arguably blew up the idea for young-adult LGBT books to be the new thing, and LGBT books in general, this takes place a little under a year since the first one. Simon and the boy who revealed himself to be Blue have been dating ever since. To Simon’s best friend, Leah Burke, she’s monumentally jealous of how cute they are, especially since not only is she now the only single one in the quartet, with Nick and Abby still together, but she’s never been kissed before either. And several years ago, Leah realized she was actually bisexual, and we now get to know that because this time the story is taking place in her mind. The thing is, graduation and prom are coming up. Leah’s never been that big into those sorts of things. She’s kind of embarrassed and ashamed about her pudgy body. Then Bram’s best friend Garrett asks her out and she inwardly tepidly accepts. But she has much bigger things on her mind; college applications, and the reality of what this means for her friends, and her band, and most of all herself, and what her inner spasms are trying to get out and into her reality.
Here’s where the book clearly wasn’t written just to cash in on the success of its predecessor: one of its plot-lines is about the reality check of young relationships. It’s the time where all our friends that we’ve been with since Homosapiens Agenda are about to graduate. And that means going to different schools. So why not just sort out going to the same school as your boy or girlfriend? That’s what most teenagers think at first because of how much they love them, but then we have to take a step back and think. What if one of you doesn’t get into the targeted school? What if one person thinks the other’s dream college is too hard or too easy or doesn’t have the right class for them or is too far away or too close to home to be comfortable and upright with their own desires? In reality, there are a million reasons that slingshot at you after high school saying two people can’t be together anymore. And I had to go through that. Leah on the Offbeat flawlessly brought that horrible feeling back, aided by the fact these are characters we’ve already gotten to know very well. Any standalone book about this sort of plot without previously known characters would’ve felt protracted and ineffective.
The tough drama prevents the cuteness from shining as much as it thinks it actually is, but this book is a rare completely original young-adult novel that breathes down all of our necks shiveringly. There are a lot of “aawww” scenes, but there’s a character in one of them that I feel maybe didn’t do the right thing. It’s a personal sort of matter on my part. As a result, I wasn’t really “aaww”ing back, and that’s the biggest flaw I found with the book, primarily because it’s a big part in it. But you know what? Despite that, it’s not all in vain. The display here of sadness and hostility one goes through right after a breakup is perfect, showing a real display of fading hope that it is temporary, the desire for revenge, grief, regret, and confusion.
Trying to play with my emotions in books and succeeding is usually recommendation-targeted, but it can occasionally backfire. If there’s something tragic that happens, it can affect me but it can make me angry at the author, making me not want to continue with the series after something in particular happened because I was happy before and then that book murdered it. I’m kind of worried to read the long-awaited sequel to One Man Guy coming out this May for that reason. Becky Albertalli is willing to let a bit of what she accomplished self-destruct, but thankfully not to a radical point. The idea of it potentially reaching a radical point is what made me often worried to turn the page.
I also kind of wish we could’ve had a closer look at Martin Addison; you know, see if he’s forgiven or not. I get the impression he is. I still love his apology message at the end of the last book. But at least Simon and his boyfriend are ever-present and jubilant. When you read about them, you almost wish couples kissed in public more often.
Leah is also a character that reminds me of me right after I got a bad grade on something I worked hard on. She’s ready to throw everything away at the slightest wrinkle from worrying and even though she’s ready to be mad, she’s also shy, not just at others but herself, in denial about the thoughts travelling her mind. The anger she displays at some scenes you could say she even overreacts to, but this is the sort of story where you feel reading about someone very different from you can open up new projections about others.
If you want to read Leah on the Offbeat, go ahead and do it. But be prepared for something a lot more than a typical romance and follow-up.