Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
Published by HarperCollins on April 24, 2018
Series: Creekwood #2
Genres: Contemporary, LGBTQ, Young Adult
Length: 343 pages Source: Amazon
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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.
Where Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is this light, fluffy happy story of a boy falling in love, Leah on the Offbeat is a lot grittier. Sure, Simon had it’s moments. Goodness knows – it had Martin being a horrible person – but it’s all Oreo cookies compared to Leah.
Before I go any further, I think it’s important to say – I genuinely liked this book. I did! But there are a lot of places that made me squirm and want to yell at Leah. But I get Leah, and I think that made it even more uncomfortable for me.
Some things to know about Leah Burke:
- She lives alone with her mother, who is dating someone and Leah is not into it.
- Her family is poor. Not food pantry poor, but thrift-shops-and-no-vacations poor.
- Her self-esteem is rock-bottom.
- She’s struggling with the truth of her sexuality and afraid to come out, especially because she feels like she missed her window.
- She’s a realist (read: pessimist).
I think that knowing these things helps you understand Leah, because there are things that she says and choices that she makes that are grating and imperfect. So imperfect.
It’s really easy to want fictional characters to make all the right choices and say all the right things, but just like real people, sometimes fictional characters are a little homophobic or a little racist or a little bit of an asshole. Or a lot. Leah constantly has this spiral thought cycle in her head that she should stop doing something because she hits a stumbling block, or something is too good to be true, or something will make someone else hate her, and so forth. It’s the nagging voice of her self-esteem peeling off layers of her skin until she is raw and exposed. I get this part about Leah, because it dictates how she thinks and feels about everything. Ev-er-y-thing. Her low self-esteem is just as much a part of her as her feet or her smile. And I can’t excuse her behavior because of it, but I can acknowledge that’s where she’s coming from.
Confident people don’t get it, you know? It’s really easy to tell someone “you’re beautiful” or “you’re great” or “I love you the most!”. If you’re a person like Leah, you hear those things, you appreciate them, and then ten minutes later you’re questioning whether they’re true or if someone was just being nice, or if they’re messing with you.
Leah’s brain is a weird place. It’s not a place that I’d like to live. I try not to live in that place. If you’re the type of person who second-guesses yourself at every turn and who over-analyzes EVERYTHING, you’ll get Leah. You’ll see where she’s coming from and you’ll cringe and wish she could just be a happily-ever-after heroine because you want a feel-good story, not a “girl, stop, stop projecting please you are making her cry” story.
In a nutshell, Leah is me in high school. Right down to the standing up for a cause one minute, and tearing someone down for something I was afraid of in myself in another. It’s not something I’m proud of, and Leah on the Offbeat was really hard for me to read because of it. Not all people are the best. Some people drop their friends even when they’re genuinely sorry and want to do better. Some people end up in uncomfortable social situations that you can’t win. Some people are too afraid to tell the truth because they don’t want to be hated for it (even when they know they won’t be… but what if they are.)
Again, all that said, I liked this book. I liked that Leah was an absolute mess, because sometimes people are! The only thing I didn’t like was the ending. After everything was said and done, I felt like the ending didn’t fit. It was very much a John Hughes ending and it was too easy and everyone was too happy about it.
Overally – Leah on the Offbeat is a good read but it’s not going to be the fluffy happiness of Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Think closer to Turtles All the Way Down or Foolish Hearts. With a little The Hearts We Sold thrown in for spice.
I think I’m going to keep this one. I’ve been a bit on the fence about it, to be honest. It’s not one that I’ll crave rereading every year, but I think it’s a good one to visit. If for no other reason, Leah reminds me that I need to make an effort to be the best possible version of myself.
Plus I really like the turquoise cover.