Book Review: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli 

Leah on the Offbeat
by Becky Albertalli 

Goodreads | Amazon | Audible | Indiebound
Series: (Creekwood #2)
Published: April 24th 2018
Rating: Offbeat
Times read: 1
Recommended by: Myself and pretty much the whole of the book world

It is 2:11. I started this book at 8:34 and except for breaks to emotionally text a friend who is also reading it I read straight through. Which should give you a clue as to how into this book I was. Leah of the Offbeat is the second book in the Simonverse this time following Leah Burke, his best friend as she navigates her senior year and the rocky road to love and friendship. 

Returning to this universe I had I had predictions in the first 10% of the book. I actually wrote them down because I was that confident. NONE OF MY PREDICTIONS WAS CORRECT. I am shocked at that. I read a lot, and I am well versed in foreshadowing.  I am okay with this development.

Leah, as my friend put it, is all ball of angry. With resting bitch face. And I love that about her. So often female characters are soft and happy and cute. It was refreshing to see Leah just be her sharp and biting self without her anger becoming destructive or having to change her personality for her to find happiness. I was slightly irritated by the fact that she was so stunningly unaware of her own emotions. She was like, "OMG I feel a feeling. This is terrible, and I must pretend that it never happened. I had to be reminded that she is a teenager and that is kind of how they are. But I wanted to shake her, and comfort her and sit her down to help her learn to vocalize what she wants and how she feels.  I am not going to spoil love interest a secret. I didn't know so I had to figure it out at the same time as Leah.  I will say that this ship grew on me.

Here lies Leah Burke. Cause of death acute awkwardness.

Beckey Albertalli is a master of writing about the small painful and funny moments of growing up. There is a part where Leah is shopping for a dress and overhears some other girls just talking about their bodies and has a complete internal meltdown. I relate to that scene so hard. I have lived that scene. There are some great discussions in the book about gender, sexuality, body image, and race in this book. For a book that is so funny, there is a lot to chew on. Unfortunately, for me, the "issues" part of this book wasn't as seamless and naturalistic as I would have liked. It was very character heavy some of whom felt completely unnecessary. I also found that I was distracted by my love of Simon any time that he was on the page. "Ermehgerd, Simon! Wait, is something happening in this scene?" 

The Waffle House must be a southern thing. I grew up in New York, and I don't remember ever seeing them, and there definitely weren't any in the midwest when I lived there(Dairy Queen and A&W on the other hand...) I feel as if I am missing out and would like to petition for Waffle House to open an outlet in Beijing. Specifically near Dongjimen station.  Please and thank you.

This is a different book than Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Leah isn't as intrinsically cute and fluffy as Simon. She has a sharpness about her which I really appreciated but isn't as comfortable to read about.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary YA, LGBTQIA YA in general or Simon in particular. I had to stop reading in order to laugh out loud a couple of times (like, prolonged laughing, I was really glad I was alone) and I teared up and one point. 'Nuf said. 

From Goodreads:

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Book Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

The Dangerous Art of Blending In
by Angelo Surmelis
Goodreads | Amazon | Audible | Indibound
Series: no
Published: January 30th 2018
Rating: it hurts to read but can't stop
Times read: 3
Recommended by: I preordered it maybe because of Twitter?

So. Many. Feels. The Dangerous Art of Blending In is the #ownvoices telling of Evan Panos a seventeen-year-old Greek American living under the specter of horrific family abuse complicated by the fact that he is gay and fears what will happen if the world, or more specifically, his mother finds out. Yeah, you are going to ugly cry.  Accept it for the gift that it is. 

This book was well written.  I stopped and reread in a couple of places because the phrasing was so beautiful and touching.  The plot and conflict were character based which I love but can feel a bit meandering. The Dangerous Art of Blending In was fast paced. It was made up of intense emotional beats so when I try to summarize "what happened" in my head, the plot is a bit hard to pin down.  I'm okay with that.  The characterization was well done. It is easy to become fully invested in them. In the back of my mind, I was trying to come up with a plan to get Evan out of his home situation the entire time I was reading.  Actually, the back of my mind is still doing that. 

Mostly, I’m scrambling to do different things to please different people. I wonder what would happen if I only spent time doing what interested me.

In some ways, Evan remains a mystery even to himself throughout the book.  This seems deliberate. So much of how he identifies himself (Greek, Christian, straight, perfect son) are merely costumes that he has been forced to put on to survive. The things that he loves, such as art, writing, and Henry are the very things that put him most in danger. The more he learns who he is the more he risks become a target. That he still dreams is amazing.  That he survives and does become his true self is a miracle.

This is an #ownvoices book, so the rep for Greek Americans, abuse survivors, and being gay are legit.  Evan does have sex which made me realize that I haven't read many YA LGBTQIA+ books where the MC do have sex and even fewer where the sex is a positive experience.   I was especially touched be the "morning after" scene.  I was going to say that the sex isn't graphic. But then I wonder if I would have felt the need to say that with a straight couple in a YA book and if I don't there why would I here? On the other hand, the scene is very delicately and masterfully handled, and that deserves kudos. 

This isn't a happy book. The abuse is described in graphic but not sensationalist detail and was hard to read. I spent a good portion of the book in tears. And yet it is also hopeful?  How does that even work?  I internally pulled for Even from the first page to the last. However bad his situation becomes hope is never out of reach. This book isn't cynical and is all the better for that. This book is recommended for readers looking for a hard-hitting emotional journey.

From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend Henry has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer. 

Tired, isolated, scared—Evan’s only escape is drawing in an abandoned church that feels as lonely as he is. And, yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s his best friend Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. It’s Henry who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he’s more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse. But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by avoiding attention at all costs.

Book Review: The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles)
by Amy Spalding 
Goodreads | Amazon | Audible | Indibound
Series: I firmly but kindly request a sequel
Published: April 3rd 2018
Times read: 2
Recommended by: Gabrielle, the power librarian

Cute cute cute cute. This. This is the book that I have been looking for. This is a sweet, funny, touching summer story about seventeen-year-old Abby who is starting out a new internship, making new friends, and falling in love. 

Abby is more how I wanted Leah from Leah on the Offbeat (even though I really liked that book) to be. Abby is so relatable. I think that we have all been that person who forgot how to stand or walk normally. Is this how I hold my arms? Why am I so aware of my young now? There are a few parts where Abby misses part of a conversation because she was daydreaming and oh man, have I ever been there. I am not gay but omg I was so Abby as a teenager. There is a scene of holding hands, and she is trying not to think about it too hard in case it isn’t happening. The way to loud inner dialogue, awkwardness, and self-doubt. So real.

I have a friend who told me once that she would love it if she didn’t have a body. That she wishes that people were just floating masses of energy or whatever. Reading about Abby’s struggle to be in front of the camera modeling the clothes that she loves reminds me of that. I also love that she has a complicated relationship with how she looks. One the one hand she is good with it in some setting and on the other it is her kryptonite, a secret, vulnerable spot that can easily hurt her. 

The human condition is bullshit.

The balance of Abby’s gayness seems just right. I like that this isn’t a coming out story. It is just a part of who she is, but it also affects a lot of things in her life because... reality. It is there but not the ultimate cause of drama.

I think that this is the first time that I have read a book about a fashion blogger and had a crystal clear idea of their style. Full skirts, fruit patterns, and belts. I am here for it! It is also clear that the author actually knows how social media works. 

The secondary characters in this book are all well defined and rich. You can imagine them having lives that are happening off the page. Abby and her best friend, Maliah are struggling a bit with balancing friendships and realationships. They are both seventeen and in their first relatioships. Of course, that is going to happen. It is sensitively and realistically explores the desire to stay as close to your best friend as you always have and the desire to be with this new person that you are in love with. I appreciate that Jax becomes her friend. He is that almost “stereotypical obnoxious boy from high school” but he manages to be sweet and funny and supportive. 

Food is very important in this book. It was interesting to see how different everyone's relationship to food and cooking was. Abby's mom is fixated on food but not the comfort that it can bring. Jordi's family makes empanadas together as a way to become closer. Abby and Jax scour Los Angeles in the search for the perfect burger. 

I have had some trouble finding f/f books that I actually liked and shipped. There are a bunch where the writing was found I was just not getting invested in the love story. So many of them read like really unhealthy friendships. So much angst. So I ha e have been questioning myself about internal biases because generally, I don’t have that problem with m/m books. Do I just have different standards for these books? Is it too much to just want something adorable as an option? I have been making an effort this year to read at least one f/f book a month. The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) is the first book that I have been 100% on board the relationship. Like, I will go down with this ship. Abby and Jordi are meant to be, and I will hear nothing to the contrary. Do not @ me you are wrong. Pardon me while I squee over them a bit.

From Goodreads:

Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people's lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby has stayed focused on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a prized internship at her favorite local boutique, she’s thrilled to take her first step into her dream career. She doesn't expect to fall for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Abby knows it's a big no-no to fall for a colleague. She also knows that Jordi documents her whole life in photographs, while Abby would prefer to stay behind the scenes.

Then again, nothing is going as expected this summer. She's competing against the girl she's kissing to win a paid job at the boutique. She's somehow managed to befriend Jax, a lacrosse-playing bro type who needs help in a project that involves eating burgers across L.A.'s eastside. Suddenly, she doesn't feel like a sidekick. Is it possible Abby's finally in her own story?

But when Jordi's photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?

Is this just Abby’s summer of fashion? Or will it truly be The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles)?