I’m sure we’ve all been there. We’re excited for a book, we pre-order it, and we drop everything and read it as soon as it arrives on our doorstep. This is exactly what happened with me and Becky Albertalli’s latest book, Leah on the Offbeat. After reading her first book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in February, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this sequel. But while I did enjoy some parts of this book, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down. 🙁
If you’re not sure what this book is about, you can find a short synopsis here. But SPOILER WARNING! The events of this book take place after the events of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and it contains several references to Albertalli’s other book, The Upside of Unrequited. Also, it’s very difficult to discuss this book without revealing some pretty big spoilers, so yes, there are definitely spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk! 😬
What I Liked:
- Becky Albertalli has such a distinct writing style. It’s hard for me to describe. She embodies her characters with such ease, and while there’s plenty of humor and self-reflection, there are also little moments of profound realization. For example: “Imagine going about your day knowing someone’s carrying you in their mind. That has to be the best part of being in love — the feeling of having a home in someone else’s brain.” WOW WOW WOW OKAY. 😍 Here I am, just reading about Leah’s thoughts on Simon and Bram, and now my heart feels like a melted popsicle. It’s moments like these that make Albertalli’s writing so special.
- This book has some fantastic representation. Leah is bi (and she’s a fat main character who likes how she looks and doesn’t give a shit about losing weight/diet culture/etc., which is FANTASTIC — I want more of this in YA books), Simon is gay, Abby’s friend’s friend is non-binary… And Albertalli’s inclusivity never feels forced, which is exactly how it should be. I was also pleased when Morgan was called out for her racist comment. It’s a tense and surprising moment that eventually pushes her to realize that there’s more to being an ally than just identifying as one.
- There were some very cute moments in this book, particularly between Simon and Leah and Simon and Bram. Like, watching-a-baby-panda-roll-down-a-snow-covered-hill levels of cute. ❤️
What I Disliked:
- I was hoping to see Leah undergo some serious character development by the end of the book, but I was left somewhat disappointed. I’ll admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of her in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. I can appreciate her stubbornness, as well as her fear of being left out or left behind. (Because yep, that was definitely high-school me. 😅) But she was often downright mean, especially to her mother. And I guess what always bothered me was her awareness of it. At several points, she says she’s being an asshole. And yet she never stops. If you know that what you’re saying and how you’re acting is hurting other people, why keep doing it? I think the only thing that really changes about Leah by the end of the book is that she begins to let things be imperfect — or “embrace the suck,” as her mom says. But I wanted to see more.
- I had some big problems with Nick’s behavior after Abby broke up with him. As he repeatedly points out, he was dumped two weeks before prom, and soon they’ll all be graduating and heading off to college. But his coping mechanisms — getting drunk, making snide comments at dinner on prom night, making out with Taylor right in front of Abby — are seriously the worst. 😑 And I honestly can’t recall any other character calling him out on it. I get it, man. You’re hurt, and it sucks. But wow… I guess the most surprising thing for me is that Leah, who didn’t hesitate to call Morgan on her racist bullshit, didn’t call Nick on his hurtful and selfish bullshit.
- I think that Leah and Abby had some adorable moments, but I just didn’t feel invested in their relationship. 😟 I’m still trying to figure out why. I know a lot of fans were eager to see Leah and Abby end up together, but for me, something just felt… off. Or rushed. A stronger overall plot may have helped with this. (See below.)
- While both Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited had clear stories and motivations, I felt a little lost in this book. It’s almost time for everyone to graduate, and they’re all choosing which colleges they’ll attend, but… What was the big conflict? I feel like I’m missing something that should be really obvious. It felt more like a coming-of-age, slice-of-life novel than a novel with a complete, traditional story arc. I just found myself wishing for something more than just, “High school is almost over! Everything is changing!”
- The ending felt very abrupt. We go from Leah and Abby holding hands at prom to Leah writing an email to Simon months later, in September. We don’t get to see how anything is handled or resolved with Nick, Garrett, or even Morgan. (She and Leah were interrupted, so Leah never actually said everything was okay or that she forgave her.) The only sort of closure we get is the revelation that Nick and Taylor are now dating, and so are Garrett and Morgan. It felt too convenient, like, “Oh! Our whole friend group found love with other people in our friend group!” 🙄 Everyone’s paired up now, with the exception of Anna. This, too, felt rushed and a little sloppy.
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. But for me, it just didn’t live up to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, or even The Upside of Unrequited. That being said, I still think fans of Albertalli — and contemporary YA readers interested in a cute, diverse read — should check it out. It’s definitely worth a read! And I’ve read plenty of five-star reviews, so this just may not be the book for me.