Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
Leah On The Offbeat, the sequel to Simon Vs The Homosapien’s Agenda. 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 realises she might love one of them more than she ever intended.
I am so disappointed.
I would even go as far to say that this isn’t fair, at all.
Simon Vs The Homosapien’s Agenda is one of my favourite contemporary novels. It’s a LGBTQ+ centred story about such a relatable concept, coming out, that so many readers resonated with it. It was funny, romantic, and real, and it led to a widely successful movie that saw the inclusion of light-hearted romantic comedies into the LGBTQ+ film genre that we don’t often see.
When Becky Albertalli announced that there’d be a sequel surrounding Leah, Simon’s bisexual best friend, I was jumping for joy. I could not wait to see the buzz and publicity surrounding an F/F romance, just like Simon Vs received. And it definitely got that buzz, for sure. Not as much as it deserved all the time and quite frankly, I understand why. I don’t like why, but I understand why.
I’d already heard some bad things about Leah On The Offbeat before I even picked it up, which sucked. While they were based in the same universe, this book should not be like Simon Vs completely; it’s such a different experience, and surely the plot wouldn’t be the same?
But what happened was much worse.
Without spoiling too much, there is…while I wouldn’t call it biphobia (because it’s really not), a harmful opinion on queerness, on not figuring yourself out yet, or even the rejection of labels. Leah is firmly bisexual, but there are other characters in the book who are not so sure, who don’t know how to feel, and that annoys Leah. And after she lashes out on this person, there are no ramifications for it. No one calls her out.
I’ve read a lot of reviews calling out authors for the harmful opinions their characters hold. I don’t necessarily agree with doing that. Characters are not always a way for authors to voice their shitty opinions, and I believe that just because a character has a shitty opinion, does not mean that’s the author talking. However, I don’t feel that way when a character has a shit opinion that’s either never challenged, or worse; the character tries to persuade the reader.
That felt like the case in Leah On The Offbeat. We’re meant to side with Leah on this, and it got me thinking why Becky Albertalli wrote that. Did she not question herself? Did she not consult others? Because to me that’s an ill informed opinion. Leah herself could very easily have that opinion; she’s a teen, and not a nice one at that, but no one challenges her opinion. That makes me feel like it isn’t the character’s opinion, but the author’s.
Becky Albertalli, while not being a gay man, was heralded for writing Simon Vs. Her occupation, her interactions with many LGBTQ+ folk, along with all her research, meant she was able to write a story that was self-aware, conscientious, and representative. But for some reason, that didn’t extend to Leah On The Offbeat, for which I’m so disappointed. While there are more m/m novels, we aren’t without our f/f. But I was excited to see an f/f become as successful as Simon Vs due to the overwhelming fan base and support Albertalli has. But instead, Leah On The Offbeat has been tainted with this weird-ass heel face turn that nobody expected in this presumably unproblematic series.
Overall, I gave Leah On The Offbeat three stars instead of two or one because, despite this horrible scene, I thoroughly enjoyed the other aspects of the story. Leah is plus size and it was great to see a plus size character love and rock her body while still talking about the insecurity she sometimes feels. Of course, Simon and Blue are present and have their own (albeit small) side plot which was romantic and lovely to revisit.
But that’s kinda it, folks.
If you enjoy Becky Albertalli’s writing and want to read f/f pairings, I would recommend The Upside of Unrequited, a ‘spin off’ to Albertalli’s universe about Abby Suso’s (Simon and Leah’s friend) cousin. There’s m/f and f/f and maybe even m/m? I can’t remember, but it’s definitely the underdog I’m rooting for in a competition between the three novels. Leah gets dead last, I’m afraid.