Leah on the Offbeat

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Leah on the Offbeat was written by Becky Albertalli and first published in 2018. It is a work of contemporary fiction that focuses on a bisexual girl developing a crush on one of her friends. The story is part of the Creekwood series and takes place a year after Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda (2015), however it does largely stand alone and could probably be fully enjoyed even if you haven’t read this book.

Leah Burke has known that she was bisexual for years but has never told any of her friends. Even though they were all supportive when they learned that Simon was gay, she’s always been paranoid that they would act differently to her. It’s never seemed very important anyway. She’s never had a relationship with anyone as she’s just not that kind of person. She’s more interested in her fandoms and drawing than being all lovey-dovey like her friends Nick and Abby.

However, the end of high school is drawing closer and now all that anyone can think about is the Prom. The need to find dates and plan their final blow-out is putting tension on everyone and cracks are starting to form in their friendship group. Leah breaks off a friendship with one friend after she makes a racist comment, Nick and Abby’s relationship starts to fall apart, and Garret actually asks Leah to the Prom. While Leah accepts his promposal, she immediately starts to regret her decision. She doesn’t really like Garret in that way and he seems to be getting really into it.

But more complicated still is her friendship with Abby. While Leah and Abby used to be good friends, they haven’t been close in over a year. Now, both of them have discovered that they’re going to be at the same university and Abby is keen for them to take a road trip together to check it out. Leah’s life seems to be spiralling out of control and she’s not sure what to do to keep things together. How can she cope with the fact that the end of the year is looming and nothing will ever be the same again?

I was really excited to read Leah on the Offbeat because, as you might recall, I enjoyed Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda when I read it earlier this year. However, I’m sorry to say that this book disappointed me on almost every level. Yet, credit where credit’s due and all. Let’s begin by talking about the few positive things that Leah on the Offbeat had going for it.

First and foremost, the story is wonderfully diverse. Much like Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda before it, Leah on the Offbeat contains a cast full of people of colour and members of the LGBT community. Even Leah herself is a very unusual protagonist for a young adult novel as she is an overweight bisexual girl, which is sadly not something I have ever come across before even within the LGBT novels that I have reviewed on this blog. For all the issues that I have with this book, it was refreshing to read a story that was so diverse in its characterisation, even if I didn’t feel that it was quite as bold as Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda in tackling themes that affect these groups.

Leah on the Offbeat also does a decent job of showing just how complex high school relationships can be, as it really is a story about drama. While its easy to think of teen relationships as carrying less weight than adult ones, this book does a good job of showing how life consuming and emotional they can be. It shows how easily friendships can be broken up for inconsequential reasons and how whole friendship groups can be divided due to romantic entanglements between friends. However, personally, I found that this actually made for a pretty tiring read. I wasn’t really a fan of angsty teen romances even when I was a teenager and the characters in this story – especially Leah – had a tendency to come across as being really fickle. To say that she liked to make mountains out of molehills was a staggering understatement.

In terms of plot, Leah on the Offbeat certainly had its share of problems. While the novel is written in a way that makes it quite simple to read, it doesn’t really have a plot at all. It merely follows Leah in her day to day life in the run up to her Prom. Because of this, it lacked the focus of the prequel. Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda was, at its core, a mystery story. I wanted to keep reading it to discover Blue’s identity. Leah on the Offbeat was just a string of loosely connected events.

Due to this, the story didn’t even have a very satisfying ending. I won’t talk too much about it here, as the identity of Leah’s crush isn’t actually revealed until quite far into the story, but I did find the ending to be a little rushed as it waited until the last few pages to smoosh them together. Because of this, it doesn’t take the time to show how this affected their friendship with the other members of their group beyond a brief summary in the epilogue email.

The story also didn’t really feel like it was a sequel to Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. I recently read another review of Leah on the Offbeat that accused it of feeling like someone’s fan-fiction of the first book, which is actually a pretty good summary of how it made me feel. Despite being written by the same author, there just felt like there was something a little off about all of the characters. The book contains some small retcons to the plot of the first book, such as the reason why Leah disliked Abby so much, which subtly changed the story enough to allow Leah on the Offbeat to connect. While these little changes were a bit irritating, bigger still was the problem that some characters have changed beyond recognition.

The only way I can think to reconcile the character changes is the difference in narrative voice. Simon is sweetheart and loves all his friends unconditionally, while Leah is one cynical git. Yes, Leah herself is the biggest issue I had with this book. While she was a bit melodramatic in Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, in this novel I found her to be insufferable. She’s rude and standoffish with everyone, takes everything personally, and even goes as far as to make all of her friends’ issues about her.

One particular scene that got my back up was the way that Leah treated one of her friends, who comes out as bisexual about two-thirds of the way through the story. While Leah thinks of herself as a bit of a social justice warrior (she completely disowns a lifelong friend after she makes a racist comment), she pours water on her friend’s coming out by refusing to recognise her identity. Seriously, because Leah deems that the friend is not bisexual enough, she tells the poor girl that her gender identity doesn’t count. And she never goes back on this view or apologises. Seriously Leah, for someone who views herself as being so on the level, you can be really homophobic…

Yet the problem doesn’t just lie with Leah. While Simon and Bram are still as lovely as ever, Nick is a completely different character in this book. While he was always pretty laid back in Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, his break-up with Abby reveals in him a pretty controlling and vindictive streak which I never would have imagined of him previously.

I was also left feeling pretty sorry for Garret. While he was still a bit of a jock, he actually turned out to be rather sweet this time around. However, he is totally abused by Leah who leads him on for the entire story, despite knowing that she does not share his feelings. Even when they’re at the prom, he is going out of his way to make her happy while she is actively trying to avoid him. And how does Leah round this off? By cheating on him. After Leah makes such a fuss in the story about how Simon and Bram should discuss there worries with each other, her attitude towards Garret seems all the more hypocritical.

So, I think I’ve ranted for long enough. As you can probably tell, Leah on the Offbeat angried up my blood a great deal. Despite the novel’s wonderfully diverse cast, I had some major issues with both its plot and characterisation. I would perhaps consider reading more of Albertalli’s work in the future, but would certainly think twice about reading any that featured Leah as a protagonist.

Leah on the Offbeat can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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