We’ve already told you how much we loved Leah on the Offbeat and seeing all of our favorite Simon characters again. Now it’s time for Becky Albertalli to give us all a bit of insight into how much she loved it!
After finishing Leah on the Offbeat, we weren’t ready to say goodbye to Shady Creek and all of our beloved Simon Vs. characters. Not yet.
Luckily, author Becky Albertalli didn’t want to say goodbye just yet either, so we asked her all of our burning questions.
Let the Leah on the Offbeat love-sesh begin!
What made you want to go back to the world of Shady Creek and tell Leah’s story?
I think I always loved the idea of possibly revisiting Shady Creek for one more book — and as a reader, I love companion novels that explore a different character’s point of view. I wasn’t sure I’d have the opportunity to write a companion or sequel, but I always knew that if I did, it would be Leah’s book. I felt like her story was the most unfinished at the end of Simon Vs.
How much did you know about Leah’s sexuality when you wrote Simon? How has your understanding of Leah changed since initially writing about her in the first book?
That’s a really great question! On one hand, I was as oblivious as Simon (which is saying something, because that kid is the very definition of oblivious). However, you can’t imagine the volume of feedback I got for years about Leah and the character who ended up being her love interest. There were lines in Simon that signaled Leah’s bisexuality to a huge portion of my readers, even if I hadn’t fully unpacked that in my head. So, I kind of jumped at the chance to explore that. I approached this book a little bit differently than I’d approached my previous novels. I became really fascinated with the idea of reframing Simon’s narrative. There was a lot of space to play around with this — not only does Simon’s general obliviousness make him an unreliable narrator, but he even mentions at one point that he particularly misses the subtext when it comes to Leah. She’s a bit of a mystery to him — which was an enormous opportunity for me.
Nerd culture is a driving force in both Simon and Leah. It defines who they are — and even influences where Simon decides to go to college. Why was that such a huge influence for those characters?
That’s really interesting! I actually think the term “nerd culture” means something very different to each of these characters. For Simon, particularly when it came to choosing his college, it was more of a general awareness that he feels more at home around people who are a little geekier and on the fringes. I think Leah is more embedded in fandom and Tumblr, and I think being a nerd is almost a specific identity she leans into. Honestly, I don’t know that I intended to tap into nerd culture for these characters. I just tried to be faithful to the sort of teen I was (and the adult I am now). Both Simon and Leah — particularly Leah — are the kind of kids who get really passionate about their favorite forms of media. I think that’s a big part of what initially drew them to each other, too.
What are some of your favorite nerdy obsessions at the moment?
I mean, I don’t think there’s anything nerdier than being that fangirl who has seen Love, Simon 12 times, owns six Love, Simon shirts, has a Love, Simon phone case, and can sing every word to every song on the soundtrack.
The friendships in Leah on the Offbeat are just as important as her romantic relationships. How did you go about creating friendships that feel so authentic?
This makes me so happy to hear! I think, ultimately, the entire Simonverse is one big story about a sprawling, messy group of friends. I don’t know that I specifically set out to make any particular statements about friendship, but I’ve always been so lucky with my own friendships. They’ve been life-saving for me. In this book in particular, it was really important to me to be faithful to these characters and their very specific relationship dynamics, even when things aren’t so rosy in the group. Friendships are so fascinating. No two dynamics are exactly alike, and with certain friends, it’s almost like you have your own language. In Simon and Leah’s books, I really enjoyed exploring the way large friend groups can look really different from different angles. And even though it was painful, I thought it was important to explore what happens when the friend group starts to unravel.
One of the things I love most about Leah (and there is a lot to love!) is that she knows exactly who she is and clearly loves herself but still struggles with confidence and expressing herself at times. How did you balance those traits while writing?
I think the thing that helped me find that balance with Leah was giving her permission to grow in a way that was imperfect and nonlinear. So, Leah could have moments of confidence in chapter 1, and moments of extreme self-doubt much later into the narrative. Gaining confidence isn’t a seamless process, and Leah was always going to have kind of a messy ride there. Also, Leah’s a really fun combination of painfully guarded and painfully self-aware, so I loved getting to play around with the differences between her internal monologue and her spoken dialogue.
What was the most challenging part of writing Leah’s story? What was the most rewarding?
I think one of the most challenging things about writing Leah’s story was having to work within the framework of the canon I’d already established. Certain details that weren’t a big deal in Simon’s book were much more challenging to tackle from Leah’s perspective. For example, I’d established Leah as a drummer — and I know absolutely nothing about drumming. I totally had to give myself a crash course (pun intended), and ultimately, I was relieved when the narrative evolved in a way that put Leah’s band on the back burner.
Another challenge was simply the fact that my readers last saw my characters midway through their junior year (unless they read Upside, in which case they caught a few glimpses of some of them in the summer between junior and senior year). Leah On the Offbeat picks up during the spring of senior year, which means these characters have grown quite a bit since we left them. It was really important to me to write these kids so they felt familiar to my Simon readers, but to also be faithful to the reality that they present a little differently during the end of senior year. For some of them, they’re just a bit more mature, but some of them are spiraling a bit as they approach graduation. I worried about Simon in particular, since people are incredibly attached to him — portraying a Simon who felt like Simon was critical. But…Simon in Simon Vs. was in crisis. He’s being blackmailed, he’s navigating coming out to his family and friends, and he gets outed. He’s keeping an enormous secret from everyone he’s close to. Senior year Simon, on the other hand, is happy and relaxed and in love — but he’s the same change-averse Simon he’s always been, which is particularly significant as the gang approaches graduation.
But I think the biggest challenge of all for me was the fact that so much of Leah’s emotional arc required her to become more comfortable with messy, imperfect moments. Which meant I had to become more comfortable with a messy, imperfect narrative. The ending of this book is not a crisp, neatly-tied grand finale. It’s a happy hot mess. One major arc in particular (involving Nick, and to a lesser extent, Garrett) is deliberately left unresolved. Readers who are familiar with my previous books (which ended in a makeout session and a wedding, respectively) can probably guess this was straight-up painful for me to write. I am so strongly compelled to write endings where every single character is happy, and every loose end is neatly resolved. But the entire point of Leah’s journey was to push back against that, which meant I had to actively fight that compulsion. I did sneak in a ridiculous epilogue that gives in to my Shakespearean impulse to pair everyone up and smooth out the rough edges. But ending the main book narrative in the moment where I ended it was a major, major challenge for me.
The most rewarding thing about writing Leah On the Offbeat? Literally everything I just mentioned. This book was so incredibly fun and rewarding to write, and I really miss it already.
Throughout Leah on the Offbeat, Simon and Leah find it hard to see chapters of their lives ending. They don’t want to say goodbye. I definitely felt that as I finished this book. How did you find closure with these characters — or will we be seeing any more of Leah and Simon in future projects?
Oh, it’s devastating for me. I’m as bad as Simon about endings. Right now, I’m intending this to be the final Creekwood book — with the characters so close to graduation, it’s very much the natural ending point. That impending goodbye was something that weighed heavily on me as I wrote it. I’ve been with these characters since 2013. They gave me my career. We’ve made a movie together. I felt like such an empty nester mom when I turned in the final version. But I think that feeling was really important when I was writing the story. That end-of-an-era feeling is so palpable and so present at the end of senior year, particularly for a group of friends like the ones in the Simonverse. I tried to lean into that feeling and let it infuse my storytelling. But yeah — if you want to know how I feel about ending the Simonverse, Leah’s mom pretty much spells it out in the pre-prom scene. My babies grew up too fast, and I miss them already.