CW’s: Hurtful bi comment
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.
Thank you to Penguin Random House UK and Netgalley for providing me with a digital Arc in exchange for an honest Review
“Leah.’ Mom shakes her head. ‘You’ve got to stop doing this.’
‘Burning everything to the ground whenever something goes wrong.”
I’m having very conflicted feelings about Leah on the Offbeat. I had actually hoped that this would be another 5 star read like Simon vs. the homosapiens agenda, since it features the same cast of characters with Leah as the narrator. However, that sadly didn’t quite happen. While I really enjoyed reading the book, it didn’t reach my love for Simon VS. as it does have a few issues that I will address later on. In the end I gave this book 3.5 stars instead of a higher rating because of the amount of things that I wasn’t a fan of that I had reflected on after a few days. By no means does that mean that I no longer like the book – I’m very excited that a book with a bi lead and a f/f pair made the NYT bestseller list and that a lot of people could relate to Leah – it just means that while I had an enjoyable reading experience there were some points keeping me from giving the book a higher rating.
What I liked
✔️ I related a lot of Leah’s out-of-place feeling. I have to say that I didn’t quite expect it, because Leah and I are very different when it comes to certain characteristics and her life situation. However, something I could fully relate to was how she often felt out-of-place in her friendship group and was getting insecure. That’s something I fully experience a lot as well, so it made me very emotional seeing Leah struggle with something that’s very familiar to me. Feeling out-of-place is never nice, but I loved that Leah also had a lot of support from her friends despite having her doubts from time to time. Still, she does a lot of things I relate to as well: like being surprised when people remember her, the awkwardness of talking to people you don’t know well and catastrophize things. I do that from time to time too: wanting to give up, because something minor happens, that however, seems a lot bigger for me. So while Leah was also cynical and often lashing out, I understood her too. She is more of an unlikable protagonist, but that’s very realistic given that we are all flawed ourselves.
“Apparently, Simon’s dad asked the tour guide at Duke to “please elaborate on the campus gay scene.”
“I wanted to fucking die,” Simon told me.”
✔️ I was living for the Simon VS. cameos. I’m beyond excited that we got another book set in the Creekwood universe, as this will sadly be the last one. Since Leah is our narrator we get to see the old characters again, which was another highlight of the book for me! We saw Simon again and got to see more of his relationship with Blue, which was so precious and sweet! Not only do we get to witness their romance, we also see Leah’s and Simon’s friendship, another of my favorite relationships from the first book that made me very happy to see here. Though they don’t appear too often I liked seeing Leah’s friendship with Simon’s sister Norah as they are in a band together (that does face a lot of challenges too) with a few other girls that she considers her squad. Those are not the only characters we see, we get to see Abby, Nick (and unfortunately) Martin again.
“All my ships, straight-up kissing: Inej and Nina, Percabeth, a few original characters.”
✔️ There were so many references and talk of fandom. Be it Harry Potter, music or other books, there were a lot of fandom references and talk of things like Tumblr, that I’m always here for in contemporaries! I love when the incorporate fandom and other media, as it makes the book a lot more relatable and as we’re all fans of something ourselves that can have a huge impact. Another things I especially love is when the references are about very current books like e.g. Six of Crows!
“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’m glad that we got to see a lot of rep + a f/f couple. I loved that we had a lot of representation in the book our lead is a fat bisexual girl who is not ashamed of her body and calls out body shaming on page. We also have the bisexual love interest and of course Simon and Blue from the previous book. Another thing I loved is that we get to see a cute f/f couple which is something not nearly enough hyped up in YA, so I was glad that Leah on the Offbeat made the NYT bestseller list a few weeks ago!
“We graduate in less than three months.”
And in that moment – for a split second – I feel it. How short that is. How soon everything changes. It’s strange because good-byes are a thing I can understand intellectually, but they almost never feel real.
✔️ I loved the college theme of the story. The characters are just about to graduate therefore there is a lot of talk about college and upcoming plans, a theme I really liked explored, because this is something that still feels very close to me (even though I graduated two years ago … oh no it has been this long already). We see everyone struggling a bit as well, be it from having to choose colleges, the fear of not getting in or especially long distance relationships. The latter was a huge focus in the entire book and I loved seeing that addressed, because getting into different colleges and not seeing each other daily can be really tough. I also liked that the book highlighted the struggle between wanting to be close to your friends but also wanting to do what’s best for you regardless of how far away that is. Time if flying by fast when it gets to the end of high school and it can be very terrifying to attend your last classes, check out colleges and prepare yourself for so many upcoming changes. I loved that we got to see this so very much!
✔️ Of course the writing style is amazing and very easy to get into. I mean it’s Becky Albertalli and her writing style is so easy to get into that I read this book in one sitting. it was a very addictive read and I couldn’t put Leah on the Offbeat down until I had finished it completely. Becky’s books are always fast-paced and so easy to read: the perfect contemporaries if you need a comfort read on your hand that is quick to get through. I was basically flying through this book and read it in one evening, something I did with Simon vs. the homosapiens agenda too. Both books prevent you from taking a break because you get so sucked into the story and need to reach the end.
What I didn’t like
✖️ The way Nick’s character was handled didn’t sit well with me. I’m not going to spoil things, so let’s just say that with college on the horizon a thing happens that really throw him off and it makes Nick behave in a way that majorly annoyed me. I actually thought that his sudden character change was a bit too extreme given the circumstances (at least that’s my personal opinion). It felt like I was reading about a totally different character and while I understand that people can change, the way this was done didn’t really convince me. Basically Nick is acting … sorry to say it, but like a major jerk, especially towards another characters.
More spoilery details here
The reason Nick suddenly acts like a douche is that Abby breaks up with him as she does not want to do long-distance and has more complicated feelings as well. What I hate is how Nick didn’t accept that breakup and kept trying to get Abby back, which is my #1 pet peeve in YA. IF SHE SAYS NO IT MEANS NO. Trying to drag Simon and Leah into manipulating Abby into getting back together with him is gross and makes Nick seem like he feels entitled for her. Abby owes him nothing and it makes Nick’s behavior is extremely uncomfortable to watch and later even escalates.
What I also found weird is that Abby was SO unaffected, too unaffected for my taste. He literally insulted her multiple times and made snide comments that must have hurt her, yet Abby never seemed bothered by them. That was a bit unrealistic in my opinion. Then later he suddenly gets together with Taylor and totally is out of Simon’s friendship group? That felt a bit too sudden given that they had been such a good team. I didn’t like that we did not get to see Simon and Leah coping with him changing between the last chapter and the epilogue.
I shake my head. “Lowkey bi, a little bit bi. Just be bi. Like, come on.”
“What? No.” She draws herself up. “You don’t get to decide my label.”
✖️ The way Leah dismisses her love interest’s questioning sexuality. I have an excellent own voices Review by Marianne linked for a very good explanation (with quotes!) why the scene I will mention was harmful, very hard for her to read and something bi readers should be aware of going into the book. What happens is that Love Interest, called X here, comes forward about her sexuality. Now X is still questioning and it’s a very big deal for her. She came out to her family and is currently identifying as “lowkey bi”, as she is still not 100% sure. The problem is that Leah dismisses that X still is questioning and invalidates the way she chooses to label herself, telling X that she is either bi or not and not allowed to be in between. I get that Leah is insecure in this moment and unsure about their relationship, but it doesn’t give her the right to police someone elses sexuality. The main problem here is isn’t that Leah made a mistake and lashed out but that this is never brought up or challenged. Everyone makes mistakes, but the book ends without Leah apologizing or the girls even talking about this scene again.
✖️ Look I liked the pair, but it didn’t quite hit it off with me. Part of that is because of the character constellation (more under the spoilers Tag), but what I can say without spoilers is that there was not enough build up. The romance itself could have had more chemistry and been better with a little more time invested in setting the girls up. I wouldn’t have minded 100 more pages if we got more development, because the relationship had potential itself! So while I liked the two girls together, their getting together could have done with more scenes.
Click here for spoilers
What I have to say is that I also wasn’t 100% down with Abby and Leah getting together given their very rocky relationship. I don’t mind a bit hate to love as you know, but again: the missing buildup would have been crucial for them. Leah has had problem with Abby since Simon VS. (something I never liked) and while we get more insight why here (definitely appreciated that!), I personally couldn’t quite see their chemistry together. I think this relates to how I have seen too much of Leah having problems/rivalry with Abby to 100% unconditionally root for their romance. Like I mentioned before I liked them together, but Abby wouldn’t have been my choice as a love interest.
IN CONCLUSION: Leah on the Offbeat wasn’t a 5 star read like I hoped it would be, but still a very enjoyable read. I loved that we saw a lot of representation and got to meet the Simon VS. characters again, that definitely felt like coming home. However, there were also some issues I had with the book including a hurtful bi comment that wasn’t called out. Overall, I would recommend Leah on the Offbeat, but be aware of that comment going into it, as said scene can be very hard to read!
Have you read any of Becky’s books? What is your fave book with a f/f couple? 🥁