You can say that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Simon vs the Homosapien Agenda for one petty reason: the shit stain spelling out Mason. Wow, spoilers for the first book but this asshole steals private information to blackmail Simon to coerce a girl into liking him. The plan obviously backfires because no one wants to find out that their cute-meet story involved underhanded manipulation. In addition, Mason eventually outs Simon because Abby’s just not that into him and has the audacity to feign ignorance that people would “be cool with it”. I thought that the first book inadvertently excused Mason’s actions as benign straight kid antics and not a form of violence. While it ended well for Simon finding the love of his life, I felt that this validated Mason or lessen the severity of what he did. You could argue that I took it too seriously for a work of fiction, but I beg to differ for those who are constantly on high alert against targeted acts of violence. What’s fictional to me is someone else’s reality.
Okay, rant aside, I enjoyed Leah on the Offbeat immensely in comparison. Leah is authentically written. I found many moments relatable from insecurities about her artistic abilities to general prom worries. For her, it’s the best or nothing at all. Yet, when you’re constantly afraid that it won’t be perfect, you prevent yourself from improving. It was nice to read a story normalizing lgbtq+ kids as any other who are accepted and loved. Don’t get me wrong, coming out is a big deal and there are always assholes but it’s refreshing that Leah and her friends aren’t solely defined by labels. Sometimes we get so preoccupied with who’s included that we don’t focus on how they are included. Is it an honest depiction or are they just a means to a sensationalized end?
People are also complicated with more than a single issue affecting them. I appreciate that Abby, resident awesome black girl in this universe, is popular and (gasp) nice. Yet, the book doesn’t shy away from depicting the racism that Abby faces today. It’s a part of her identity but it’s not the sole reason why she exists in this book. She has goals and ambitions outside of supporting the main white characters and giving them some preverbal street cred that allows usage of the n-word.
Concurrently, Leah in typical teenage fashion frustrates and annoys me. However, it’s her characterization and not a product of poor writing. She gets worked up about money problems, her mom’s new boyfriend, and coming to terms with her sexuality. Often times, Leah will do or say something really bratty but I can’t fault her for it. It’s obvious that Leah doesn’t even know how she feels let alone how to ‘properly’ react.
In fact, I think I learned something from Leah and gang. Understandably, Abby and Leah are not over the fact that Mason may be a demon incarnate but it’s perplexing to witness Simon forgiving him. It’s not all rainbow and butterflies, but more like small awkward smiles in response to unfunny witticisms. It made me realize that it’s okay to let go. Once Leah realized that too, new opportunities she never considered were made available.