Book Review – Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertali

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review.

Do you know what book I lovedSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Do you know what book I thought I would love? Leah on the Offbeat, the sequel to this beloved gay novel. And do you know what book I actually ended up hating? I’ll give you one guess.

Yeah, this book really disappointed me in every way possible. Which is crazy, because I picked it up believing that I was really going to love it. And why wouldn’t I think that? Its predecessor was so amazing, I figured there wasn’t even a chance that this book would let me down. It did, though. It really, really did. In fact, I’d probably say that this book was the biggest bookish disappointment for me in all of 2018… and I read Burrow Hills this year.

But anyway, I’m sure you’re chomping at the bit to know exactly what I hated about this novel, so let’s jump right into it. Usually, I start with the things I liked about the novel, but I think that, when I rate a book less than three stars, it only makes sense to start with what absolutely sucked about it. So, yeah. We’re gonna start with the fun stuff this time. Buckle up.

First of all, I hated Leah. That’s right. Not “disliked.” Not “loved to hate.” Just “hated.” Plain and simple. Why, you ask? Well, unfortunately, in a spoiler-free review I can’t go into too much detail. But what I can say is this:

  1. She was not a good friend. Simon kept calling her a good friend, but she WASN’T. Not even close! Especially not to Nick, who was supposed to be one of her best friends.
  2. She said her love interest wasn’t “bi enough”. To her face. What a garbage human, truly.
  3. She treated her mom like trash. And, I mean, I get that kids and their parents aren’t always nice to each other. But she went overboard with her bitchiness way too much for me to have any sympathy or empathy for her.
  4. In fact, she treated everyone like trash. I can’t even list every single time, because this list would literally go on forever. But just know that for this one bullet point, about a million other people were treated poorly by Leah.
  5. She was a hypocritical piece of shit. She got all up in arms over something problematic one of her friends said (I’ll talk more about this in a little bit), but then when she did something problematic (i.e. telling her love interest that she wasn’t “bi enough”) she never acted like she felt bad about it or anything! Ugh. My hatred for this girl is real.

Second, I really hated how preach-y this book felt. I mean, I’m the last person who would ever say that a book shouldn’t get political or talk about social justice issues, because I’m all about that. What I’m not about, though, is authors being so obvious with it. It was like Albertalli didn’t even try to be subtle or word things in her own unique way. Instead, I’m pretty sure she just copy and pasted lines from Twitter threads about body positivity, racism, and sexuality. It took me completely out of the story whenever this happened, because it didn’t feel genuine, or like it was Leah saying these things. Instead, it just felt like the author bashing me over the head with her political views on these subjects.

Third, and sort of related to the previous issue, there was one “lesson” I felt like Albertalli was trying to teach her young readers that I truly didn’t agree with. Remember how I mentioned earlier that one of Leah’s friends said something problematic, and that she got all up in arms about it? Yeah, this has to do with that. For those of you who aren’t aware, there’s this thing online called “cancel culture”, where one bad thing a person says can lead to a person being “canceled”. There’s no second chances. No concept of a person growing or learning from their mistakes. They’re just canceled. And that’s what Leah basically does to her friend, and Albertalli portrays it as the morally correct thing to do. In fact, she portrays Leah as a hero of sorts for cancelling this girl. Personally, though, I don’t think that’s the message she should be sending to her young, impressionable readers.

Fourth, the climax–you know, the most important part of the whole book–was totally rushed and incoherent. I swear to god, if you’d tipped a dumpster upside down and then lit the garbage on fire, it would’ve been less of a mess than whatever the hell this climax was. The insanity was at an all-time high, and the romantic moments weren’t even enjoyable because they didn’t feel earned at all. Guys, it was just bad. Really, really bad.

And finally, all of the characters from the previous book just felt… wrong. Really wrong. The only way I can describe it is that it was like I was reading a fanfiction where the author had no real grasp of the original characters and their personalities. Even Simon felt off, and, like, HE WAS THE MAIN CHARACTER OF THE FIRST BOOK. Why on God’s green earth was Albertalli not able to at least write him in a way that felt true to the original character? What happened??? You know what, I can tell you what happened. What happened is that this story should’ve never happened. I can guarantee Albertalli never pictured Leah as bisexual, nor did she picture her love interest in this book as bisexual, and so their relationship didn’t feel good. Seriously, I didn’t ship them at all, and I ship everybody. Also, she tied the ending of the first book up with too pretty of a bow, so unraveling the whole thing just turned into a big mess. She shouldn’t have touched these characters to tell this story. Because, I mean, the story itself actually wasn’t too bad. I just don’t think she should’ve told this story in this world in this way.

Which leads nicely into the very short list of things that I actually enjoyed about this book, and that saved it from being a two or one star read.

First, there was the pacing. Up until the climax, the pacing was great and kept me turning the pages. I actually finished this book in one day, believe it or not, and I mainly contribute that to the fact that this book moved along quickly enough that it didn’t feel like a slog to get through (despite how many things it had going against it).

Second, there were a few genuinely funny moments and lines. Despite all of the grimacing and cringing I was doing throughout the read, I did catch myself laughing out loud a few times. In fact, once or twice I almost thought I might sort of like Leah. Obviously, I got over that feeling fast, but it was there.

And third, the overall plot and concept for this book were good. The idea of a bisexual girl pining over her friend’s girlfriend? Genius. The idea of recycling characters from a previous book? Not as genius. But if Albertalli had created new characters in a new world in order to tell this story, I have no doubt that I would’ve loved it. Or, well… I would’ve loved it more than I loved this book. The Leah character might’ve still been a deal breaker for me, though.

So, yeah. I really didn’t like this book, which is a damn shame, especially since I went into it thinking I was going to love it. Guess that teaches me to temper my expectations next time. Oh well. You live and you learn.

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