Thursday 7 June 2018

#CBR10 Book 42: "Leah on the Offbeat" by Becky Albertalli

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

While this book can be read as a standalone, it is a sequel of sorts to Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and I suspect you might get more out of it if you read that one first. The movie adaptation of said book; Love, Simon is currently in cinemas now (and it's just as delightful as the book it's based on).

Leah Burke has a big secret and she doesn't really feel comfortable telling anyone apart from her Mum, even her best friend Simon. Leah's bisexual, but doesn't really know how to tell even her openly gay BFF. Simon was involuntarily outed online for their entire high school to see, but it all ended well for him and he's been soppily happily in love with his boyfriend for most of senior year.

Leah is different from most of her friends - she lives with her single Mum and they certainly don't have the same amounts of money everyone else in her friend group has. With their high school graduation and prom coming up, Leah's previously so tight knit friend group seems to be fracturing and her home life is also changing in ways she's not sure she's ready for. Her Mum seems to be getting serious about her new boyfriend, and Leah's not really certain how she feels about that. She is pretty sure that she's in love, but she's also pretty sure the object of her affection is straight, not to mention still dating one of Leah's closest friends. Should Leah act on her crush, or stay silent?

While I didn't read this book during Pride month, it seems suitable that my review of it comes out during - considering the subject matter of this book. You don't often see confident and clearly out bisexual characters in YA fiction (or other types of genre fiction for that matter), but Leah is bi and proud and has both a female and a male love interest in this book. Her female love interest (the name of whom I don't want to disclose - because I don't want to spoil anything) is in a relationship with a boy at the start of the book and isn't entirely sure of her own sexuality to begin with - but Leah's never been in doubt about liking both genders, she just hasn't told anyone except her Mum about it.

About a month ago, I went to see Love, Simon in the cinema and Leah's character was played by the excellent Katherine Langford. The actress gets thanked in Albertalli's acknowledgements at the end, and I can see why, she seemed like a perfect choice (although the actress may be a bit too thin) and was pretty much my mental image while reading the book. When I read Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I pretty much loved Simon from page one. He's just so earnest and adorable. Leah is a slightly tougher nut to crack and while she lightens up on her Mum and her Mum's boyfriend eventually, I thought she was being generally bratty and unfair. Leah's Mum was great, so supportive and has clearly worked so hard to provide for her daughter - I wished Leah would show a bit more gratitude and acknowledge that her Mum deserved some happiness too.

There's a fair amount of teen drama in this book, with break-ups, conflicted feelings about the future and college choices, old friends coming to unpleasant realisations about each other, and obviously various characters crushing on each other. One of her male friends is clearly interested in her and wants to take her to prom. Leah finds his attention flattering, while also feeling guilty, since she fancies a girl more, but is unsure if said girl even vaguely returns her interest. It's a cute book, with a fun cast of diverse characters and absolutely in the vein of what Albertalli has written in the past, but it didn't give me the same happy feels as both Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited. Even ranked lowest of her three books, this is still a good read with a lot of nice role models for teens and I can't wait to see what Albertalli is doing next.

Judging a book by its cover: I don't know if it's the mustardy yellow top on the cover model that clashes with the teal background, or the fact that this cover just seems a lot more haphazardly thrown together than the ones for Albertalli's previous two books, but I really don't like this much. Two thumbs way up for a plus-size model on the cover - body positivity is very important, but I wish the cover designers had given Leah's book more care and consideration.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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