So the story picks up on year after the events where Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda left off. Leah on the Offbeat is a continuation of the Creekwood series, with Simon vs. The Homo sapiens Agenda being Creekwood #1. Though it can be read as a standalone, it is advisable to read Simon first as this would help to give you a better feel for the characters. Not only that, Simon is well worth the read!
Leah and her friends are busy getting things in order for their senior year, including where to go to University. Because of this pressure of which school to go to and whether that will mean leaving a boyfriend/girlfriend behind, tensions are running high, especially once friends of hers begins to fight and her rock-solid circle of friends begins to crumble slowly.
But this novel really revolves around the fact Leah is bisexual, though she hasn’t told any of her friends, not even Simon. It’s not that Leah’s bisexuality is a big deal — she’s entirely comfortable with her sexuality.
What’s throwing her for a loop is that she’s falling hard for a girl in her circle of friends with whom she’s not even all that close. In fact, Leah seems to have deliberately kept this person at an arms distance…and now we know why.
Once Leah realizes the depth of her crush on this girl, she then has to figure out what to do: Should she pursue the girl of her heart and break her own heart in the process because Leah’s nearly 100% sure she’s straight? Or deny her feelings, keep her sights on her future and put the drama aside?
But when this girl begins flirting with Leah and throwing her all kinds of crazy mixed signals, Leah doesn’t know how to deal, fearful that she’s misinterpreting the girl’s signals. So instead of risking her heart and entering into a potentially humiliating situation, she shuts it all down. Risk averted. The question is: what it the right thing to do?
WHAT I LIKED
I felt a bit nostalgic given that this book takes place near the end of our favorite characters’ senior year. It reminded me of the uncertainty and anxiety that I felt during that time as well as the fear of losing friends and the fear of the unknown.
And that’s not even mentioning what was going to happen to those long distance relationships? Did they even stand a chance? I thought the author did an excellent job of fleshing out all these aspects and in so doing, brought back my own vivid memories of that time period in my own life.
The struggles of Leah and her friends were things most teens face, especially during their last year of high school so, in this way, the story was entirely relatable. I felt like I was back in high school (with both the good and the bad).
I thought Abertalli handled the romance aspect quite well and liked how it wasn’t hurried or rushed. The angst and drama surrounding the Leah and her crush was cute and worked for me, so that made it extra sweet when Leah and her crush finally get together; though I wish it would have occurred a bit sooner.
It was cute that Leah’s crush was seriously flirting with Leah though she refused to see any of the signs, convinced that the object of her affections is 100% hetero. Hence the angst.
I also enjoyed the banter between Leah and her crush — as well as the banter between all the other character’s as well, a lovely device I’ve noticed in all of Abertalli’s novels.
I also loved the fact that there was a road trip — I’ve already said in the past that I’m a sucker for a road trip story. While this wasn’t such a story per se, I did enjoy the trip that Leah and her crush took while they were both still trying to figure the other one out.
And of course, the “event” that occurred during the trip marked a turning point in the novel, followed by plenty of drama and just the right about of angst.
I loved that we got to see many of our favorite (and not-so-favorite) characters from the first book: Simon, Blue, Nick, Abby, Anna, Morgan, Garrett and even the dreaded Martin. We also get some sweet Simon and Blue coverage, for which I was especially grateful.
I also really loved the secondary character of Leah’s mother. She was the ultimate cool mom who possessed an extraordinary amount of patience with Leah. She was also quite funny, and her comments caused me to giggle out loud quite a few times.
What’s nice about these characters, is that though they are a lovable and fun group of people (well, maybe except for Martin), they are also flawed, which renders them all the more human and relatable. We see this is Abertalli’s other novels as well, and she always does an excellent job of pulling it off.
What especially worked for me in this book was that though this story followed a plus-sized protagonist, her weight was not the focus of the story. In fact, Leah doesn’t give a damn about what anyone thinks about her size — she is perfectly happy with her body, and she sums it up nicely when she says:
I swear, people can’t wrap their minds around the concept of a fat girl who doesn’t diet. Is it that hard to believe I might actually like my body?
So rather, this story was about those things that many teenagers have to deal with in discovering who they are in their rapidly changing world.
I also loved how comfortable Leah was with her own bisexuality, though it did confuse me why she hadn’t yet told her friends — especially the gay ones — that she was bisexual.
Maybe to her, it wasn’t something that needed explaining. It simply “was.” As with the Simon book, I feel the author does a masterful job of normalizing LGBTQ relationships and once again, I was overjoyed to see the positive portrayal of LGBTQ people.
So many LGBTQ books in the past were depressing and tragic, so it’s refreshing to read once again a story that’s uplifting and positive.
That being said, I loved the amount of diversity in this book: we had people who were bisexual, gay, straight, fat, skinny, as well as plenty of characters of color. I also loved how the one racist comment was jumped upon immediately and was not merely allowed to slide by.
And for someone who loves Harry Potter, the many Harry Potter references are always appreciated.
Okay, so now let me address the negative points.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Okay, so I hate to say it, but I didn’t like Leah at all. I loved her a lot in Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda but in this book, she rubbed me the wrong way.
Her overly abrasive personality got in the way of me enjoying this book, and because of it, she was for me an unsympathetic character. She was nearly always snarky, angry, negative, sarcastic, cynical, exceptionally moody, and pretty much rude to everyone around her.
It’s challenging to empathize with a character who seems so hostile to everyone and everything.
I just had a tough time connecting to Leah’s character, especially when she shuts down anytime something goes wrong, or somebody says something she doesn’t like. I found myself thinking quite a few times that she was a whiny brat.
I can’t deny it: she was pretty much a shitty person throughout the majority of the time in the book. She rarely apologized to anyone and treated her mom like absolute crap, which I found especially annoying, considering how nice her mom was to her and how she supported Leah in everything she did.
There’s a huge difference being a character being self-confident and outspoken, and a character being an asshole.
Oh, and there was also the lying, such as when she lied to Garrett about attending his game. Speaking of Garrett, I also didn’t like the way Leah strung Garret along. It was apparent that he had a massive crush on her but she never once thought of letting him down gently and telling him she wasn’t interested.
I have to admit that I also found it a bit difficult buying into the premise of the story. In Simon Vs. The Homo sapiens agenda, we are introduced to Leah, and the girl (I”ll refer to Leah’s crush as “the girl” in order not to give anything away) and they are both completely straight — Leah even confesses her crush on Simon.
Now in this book, Leah is all of a sudden bisexual, and she has a HUGE crush on the girl and supposedly has for quite some time — and the girl, who was also very straight in the last book, now suddenly has a crush on Leah. I had a difficult time buying it.
It also didn’t seem like the book at all that much of a plot — or at least not that engaging of one. There really weren’t any plot twists or surprises to mention of. It was basically thus: angry bi-girl falls for a girl whom she thinks is straight. Straight girl flirts with bi-girl. Bi-girl is mean to straight girl. Will straight girl and bi-girl get together?
The writing itself was excellent and engaging, and I enjoyed the angst and conflict between the characters. I also enjoyed spending time with all of my favorite characters again from the Simonverse, and there was plenty of humor and snark to keep it light and entertaining.
I laughed out loud on plenty of occasions. I also enjoyed getting inside of Leah’s head and seeing the world from her point of view.
Unfortunately, I didn’t love it as much as I hoped I would. There was no point in this book that pulled on my heartstrings at all.
I think that the change in Leah’s personality from the Simon book to this one was a little too jarring for me and I ended up, much to my surprise, somewhat disliking her character — and it’s not easy to love a book when you don’t like with the main protagonist.
Overall, while I did have some problems with Leah’s characters, I didn’t hate this book. But I didn’t love it either.
I just didn’t connect with the characters as much as I did with the first book in this series. I do love Becky Abertalli’s writing and will definitely continue to read her books in the future. In fact, I can’t wait for her collaboration with Adam Silvera (I already preordered it).
This book, however, just wasn’t quite a home run for me.