Book Talk: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Book Talk: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky AlbertalliLeah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
Published by Balzer + Bray on April 24, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 343
Format: eBook
Source: Library
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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.

Before reading Leah on the Offbeat, I went on a journey back through Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited, because a) those books are amazing and b) the movie confused my memory of some of the characters/plots. I’m super glad I did that, because I would not have remembered everything without that, and also the cuteness is always worth it. Admittedly, though, I do think that put my expectations at the absolute pinnacle, so I’m not sure if I ended up appreciating Leah on the Offbeat quite as much as I could have.

Unlike Albertalli’s prior main characters, Leah’s closed off and angry. She’s straight up Slytherin after a couple of fluffy Hufflepuffs. That makes for a nice, though mildly startling change. I absolutely related to Leah’s usage of snark and judgment to mask insecurities and to the way she keeps all feelings on lockdown. My heart will always go out to the grouchy heroines.

Going into this book, I knew that it was a companion/sequel to Simon vs. and that it was about Leah, but that’s literally all I knew. I managed to avoid all spoilers, and I didn’t even read the book’s description. Usually, that’s how I like to roll, but wow was I blindsided by this book. It was one of the rare cases where I really wasn’t sure until about 1/3 of the way in what the actual ship would be, mostly because WHOA BOLD MOVE.

Before I read this book, I did see some ratings roll in on Goodreads, and I noticed the mixed opinions. Now that I’ve read it, I totally see why the responses vary so much. In a few ways, it’s not the book that I expected, and there’s not as clear and adorable of a romantic narrative. In some ways, I love that because it’s complex and different, but I also will always personally prefer the adorable shipfests.

Seriously, though, the bravery it takes to break up a canon ship (even a side one) in a companion novel is pretty impressive. Then again, Ann Brashares and Joy Fielding have killed off one half of THE SHIP, so maybe not. Still, that’s always going to potentially alienate fans, and I’m still pretty surprised Albertalli did that. Honestly, I have such mixed feelings about the way things roll out in the friend group in this book, and they’re basically all spoilery, so I guess I need to go all spoiler tag on this.

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Some aspects of Leah on the Offbeat make me look back at Simon vs. with a new lens, and I’m not totally sure how much of that was intended and how much was a consequence of a spin-off that may not have been fully planned when book one was written. Like, I love the twist of sorts that Simon was completely wrong in interpreting Leah’s discomfort with Nick and Abby’s relationship, and that seems completely believable. But it also makes me side-eye Leah for her anger at Simon when he didn’t come out to her first, because that makes her so incredibly hypocritical. I tried not to let that bother me, but it did a little bit.

My favorite moments of Leah on the Offbeat were the moments with the crew. Every Simon and Bram moment (and there are a lot) made my heart sing with joy. That ship is just the best ever. And I laughed so loud when Abby pranked Simon’s phone. That scene alone is worth more points because it was perfection.

This is one of those times where I did really like a book but no matter how I try the review comes out sounding critical. Leah on the Offbeat has fantastic writing, a great narrative voice, excellent characters, so much fantastic rep,  and a solid portrayal of a friend group in flux as college approaches. So yeah, this book is great, but it wasn’t quite what I expected from Becky Albertalli. I’m hoping I love it to pieces on a reread, but that’s for future Christina to find out.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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