Bi girls! Cute couples from previous books! Healthy relationships with parents! Loads of swearing and clever banter! Seriously, what’s not to love about Leah on the Offbeat?
Like many fans of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (rebranded as Love, Simon by 20th Century FOX), I was thrilled to hear Becky Albertalli was working on a new novel about another Creekwood High School student. Simon was such a delight – filled with relatable characters, fluffy romance, and heartwarming moments that made even this reviewer’s hard, cold heart melt into a puddle of marshmallow goo. Leah on the Offbeat is a strong companion piece, featuring all the aforementioned goodness with its own particular twist. The titular character, Leah Burke, is nearing the end of her high school career, trying to keep her all-girl band going, and struggling to cope with her mom’s growing commitment to a boyfriend. Lastly, she is also wrestling with a crush on her friend: the beautiful, popular, and definitely-straight Abby Suso.
One thing that makes the Creekwood books so enjoyable is Albertalli’s ability to write teenagers. Many YA novels stumble because authors make their teenagers too immature, too precocious, too angsty… the list goes on. Albertalli, however, crafts characters who are relatable and charming without pushing the boundaries of credulity. Leah is a perfect example – snarky, foul-mouthed, and determined to be cool until she torches everything because it isn’t just right. Leah is also incredibly body-positive, describing herself as fat but making it clear in no uncertain terms that she likes how she looks. Aside from a point-blank confirmation that yes, fat girls can love their bodies, Leah’s positivity is evident in her own descriptions of herself. As someone who has struggled with a negative self-image for years, I found this very heartening. So many young adults need to read this kind of character: someone who honestly and unapologetically loves herself.
Another facet of teenage life YA authors tend to leave out is a healthy relationship with one’s parents, which is why I really appreciated the focus on Leah’s interactions with her mom. Their scenes range from playful banter to serious heart-to-hearts, and Leah’s mom has dimensions rarely afforded to parent characters.
Although Leah takes the center stage, the other characters are still allowed to shine. Abby Suso is a warm, magnetic character; it’s easy to see how Leah could crush on her. Who wouldn’t? Simon and Bram continue to be adorable (without monopolizing the story). Nick has got some issues, but while he can be a bit of a dick, the readers can’t help but worry for him. Even Taylor Metternich gets an honorary mention with one of the best jokes in the book:
After another character points out her brother’s truck, which has a set of balls on the back: “Yeah, he’s really testicalling my patience.”
Maybe I have the sense of humor of a twelve-year-old, but that right there is comedy gold.
My only issue with Leah on the Offbeat is its abrupt ending. Several plot-lines are left loose or hastily-tied at the end, a major potential conflict is glossed over, and the denouement is covered in a somewhat impersonal manner. That being said, the rest of the book is bursting with goodness, so the end doesn’t detract too much from the reading experience.
In sum, Leah on the Offbeat is a sweet, fun romance/coming-of-age book with a stellar cast of LGBTQ+ characters. If you’re looking for something to read while dopey euphoria slowly consumes you, give this book a try.