Hey readers! How is your week going? I’m back with this a review of a book that kind of disappointed me yet I also enjoyed a lot. AAAARGH.
Title: Leah on the Offbeat
Author: Becky Albertalli
Genre: YA Contemporary
Themes: Sexuality, growing up, university, musical theatre in high school
I finished the last 25 minutes of this audiobook in 2019, so technically it’s the first book I read this year. I don’t really know how to feel about it.
On one side, Albertalli is a YA fiction superstar. I really enjoyed Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda and possibly liked The Upside of Unrequited even better. I think her books are fun and fluffy and relatable and the best of young adult contemporary fiction.
Leah was a very compelling character. I thought her mixture of insecurity and confidence and her conflicted decision making and the way she would get angry for no reason and hate herself for it was really done. And I’m glad she got her own book.
I also enjoyed squad dynamics and I think Albertalli has created a whole bunch of compelling characters—often YA books focus on two or three best friends, but this is a group. There’s Simon and Nick and Leah, who have known each other and been great friends, then Anna and Morgan, who are more friends with Leah, and then Bram and Garret and Nick all play soccer and Simon and Abby and Nora are all in the play and Nora and Taylor and Leah and Anna are in a band together and there are couples and crushes and it’s big and messy. (apologies for that very long sentence). In my experience with friend groups, that’s more what they’re like. Albertalli has used very few words in the two books to make a bunch of characters that would all be very interesting if they had their own novels.
But it definitely feels like this book wouldn’t have existed without the success of Simon Vs. and the movie adaptation. It’s set about a year later, and we get to see the SquadTM all together again and stressing about college and separation. The senior year of high school is a compelling thing for authors to write about, I think, because it’s often the first time young people have to deal with making their own decisions and deciding what their futures will hold (at least in the West). And obviously it’s okay for authors to want to make more of their successful books. But I felt like the characters and plot were designed to please readers than be realistic.
One of the things that most annoyed me is the ending. (SPOILERS AHEAD!! Highlight to see as I don’t feel like looking up the HTML for spoiler tags.) Leah spends the whole book thinking she should come out to Simon and not doing so. She’s fought with Morgan and Morgan has apologized in a way that means she deserves forgiveness. But that plot is never wrapped up. Neither is the whole Garret thing. And even though there’s some self awareness about the cliché of Prom Night, it ends on prom night. Leah’s crush on Abby, who (like Leah) we always assumed was straight, is of course reciprocated. And obviously they deserve each other and should be happy and it’s okay and we get a happily ever after.
Then there’s the epilogue. It’s an email from Leah to Simon, both blissfully happy at college. And Albertalli ties up all the loose threads: Heartbroken Nick ends up with Taylor Metternich. Garret who clearly liked Leah is with Morgan. Nora ends up with Cal and everybody is happy.
(END SPOILER) I don’t know. Maybe I just resent the massive lack of romantic action in my life (hahaha). But these characters are good enough that maybe they don’t need to end up with someone from high school. I kind of resent the whole idea that the squad must have significant others to be compelling or significant.
My other problem is that I kind of feel like the author decided that Abby was a great, interesting character that everybody loved, so she had to be bisexual so Leah could end up with her and the readers would be happy. (Pls highlight for spoiler)
A few more things I liked: real talk body insecurity and positivity as Leah deals with her fatness. A complex and well done mother-daughter relationship. Sassy dialogue. Simon and Bram. Relatable high school feels (even though I hated high school lol). Readable and cute contemporary. Overall, this was an enjoyable book and I thought it did Leah a lot of justice. If only it went beyond romance and coupledom as the way to be happy. 3.5 stars.