Book Review: Leah On the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

May 17, 2018

Edition: Penguin Paperback
Release Date: April 30th, 2018
Pages: 339
Series: Creekwood #2
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Bought
Links: Goodreads | Author's Website | Buy the book

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 mum, and her life is decidedly less privileged. 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.
It kills me to say this, but in total honesty, I didn't LOVE ‘Leah On the Offbeat’. I wanted to love this book and I should have loved this book, but I didn’t - at least not as much as I envisioned I would when it was announced and I proceeded to fangirl up until the very moment I had a copy in my hands. But with that being said, I will always read anything that Becky Albertalli writes. Her writing is my weakness, even if I didn't connect with this story as much as I did with Simon or Molly's. Her dialogue and characterisation continue to be for a lack of a better word, magic. She's the type of auto-buy author who makes me feel excited about creating my own stories, even if they’re never as good as hers. 

The main reason I didn’t LOVE this book was because I expected to LOVE Leah and I expected to LOVE her love story. I’m an easy to please reader but I’m also very picky in that I have to LOVE everything, I consistently need to be highly enthused. I sound kind of demanding right? Maybe I’m not so easy to please after all. Usually, this isn’t a problem because Becky Albertalli writes characters like the oh so loveable Simon Spier, so I never have any doubts that she’ll excel in meeting all of my demands. 

Sadly, Leah just wasn't as likeable as Simon or Molly Peskin-Suso. This originally disappointed me but I’ve come to terms with it. After reflecting on a Sydney Writers Festival panel about ‘real female characters’ and their ‘likeability’ called ‘Burn the Burn Book: Real Girls in YA’, I understand that a character doesn't have to be likeable to be a character worthy of our empathy and attention. Leah is a great example of this, she is worthy of our empathy and attention. She may be cynical, pessimistic, and often self-destructive, but I understood where those traits came from. Simultaneously, she was also a talented, outspoken, drum-playing, body positive warrior. 

Side note: Not only did we get a bisexual protagonist, a broke protagonist (mood), but we also got a fat protagonist who didn't actually hate herself or feel the need to change - this was so utterly refreshing and earned her massive brownie points!

I swear, people can’t wrap their minds around the concept of a fat girl who doesn’t diet. Is it that hard to believe I might actually like my body?

I feel like Leah without all of her anger and insecurities, living her truest life (which we see come to fruition at the end of the novel), could actually be a really cool person to hang out with and if she was real, I would so give her the chance. However, I feel disappointed that Leah was never held accountable for her outbursts and the effects it had on the people involved in the crossfire. Not saying her feelings weren’t valid but I think if they were ever challenged, that would have been really interesting. Because of that, I’m not entirely sure she really developed as a character, in terms of growth and responsibility. 

I understood Leah’s frustrations, but I think she was just so caught up in herself that she forgot to stop and smell the roses. I believe a lot of us are guilty of that, especially during adolescence when everything seems a bit out of whack. Her feelings and insecurities were relatable and will resonate with a lot of readers, myself included. I really was rooting for Leah, I just felt that in getting from point A to point B, she was the same person. Basically, my relationship with Leah went a little bit like this, "I don’t always agree with you but I see you, I hear you, and I'm not judging you." 

Her voice was very distinct and clearly separate from the main characters of Becky's other two novels. The story itself is super character driven and whether or not she'd be my best friend, Leah represents a very real type of girl. There are fat bi girls who feel wronged by the world, who are comfortable with themselves, but who at the same time, don't want to explain or justify themselves to others over and over again. 

Becky Albertalli does diversity so well, and Leah’s do exist in this world, it's important that that's made clear. Because just like the rest of us, likeability aside, these girls exist and also seek solace and visibility through representation in literature. I know some of those girls myself and I can't wait for them to be excited when they read Leah's story and watch her get the happy ending she and they, deserve.

Leah’s main romantic interest was so unexpected; I would have laughed if someone spoiled it for me before I had the chance to read it myself. There is a semi-love triangle, involving a boy and a girl, but neither options ever felt viable. It’s hard to discuss this without giving spoilers, so I’ll do my best. Personally, while I can see fans of the series eating this new relationship up, it felt forced to me. I just didn’t see where it came from, this pair felt incredibly mismatched and I never got a sense of mutual chemistry. It was very love-hate.

In not feeling the romantic plot of the story, this definitely prevented me from giving ‘Leah On the Offbeat’ a higher rating because I wasn’t invested in the end game. I also felt saddened that the love interest who got let down in the end, was very much swept under the rug and pushed to the side so that this pairing could happen. I feel like a conversation that should have happened, didn’t happen.

Overall, I still felt engaged when reading ‘Leah On the Offbeat’ and was more importantly, curious to see what would happen next. It’s definitely a book that fans of ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ or its film adaptation ‘Love, Simon’ will adore because it features all of our fan favourites in all of their glory (however, I would read it as a sequel rather than a stand-alone). Simon is just as delightful as ever, as is B (let’s call him that for anyone who hasn’t read book one) and the rest of the gang. 

'Leah on the Offbeat' still read like a Becky Albertalli novel and serves as a bittersweet ending to their (Simon and his friends) high school experience, jam-packed with all the feels that come with senior year. There are plenty of wonderfully cheesy scenes that will make you smile, and dialogue that will make you laugh. The magic isn’t gone. It just feels weird to rate it 3.5 stars, maybe a little unfair even, but sadly there was something missing and I have to be real about that.  

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