Published April 30th 2018 by Penguin (first published April 24th 2018)
Author: Becky Albertalli
Genre: Young Adult, LGBT
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“I don’t mean to be dramatic, but God save me from Morgan picking our set list.”
Leah Burke – girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.
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 mum, and her life is decidedly less privileged. 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 realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.
Some aspects of this book I LOVE. And other aspects I have mixed feelings about. A part of me wants to give this book 3.5 stars, but I am sticking with 4 stars purely because I read this pretty quickly, and looked forward to picking it up each night before bed.
But it wasn’t the same level of love that I had for Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. The great thing about this book is that it’s in the same setting, with the same characters that we knew from Simon. But the story had a little less impact on me. The story for me was less about the actual plot, and more about Leah’s character. It’s basically her reacting to all the stuff that happens around her, which you could say literally about any character, but this has a less complex plot, and it’s pretty standard YA.
Weirdly, I found that although Leah is literally the opposite to me in personality (she’s confident, seemingly unafraid, sweary, moody, angry and easily annoyed) we do have some things in common which made me really like as a book that is gaining popularity. Here’s what I listed in my Instagram story:
Firstly, and most importantly, Leah is bi. She’s the second bi protagonist I’ve encountered in YA fiction, and I loved reading this from her perspective because I naturally connected with her insights and just how she was naturally. It wasn’t at the forefront of the plot in the way I expected it to be, like in Autoboyography, but is instead just revealed between her and the reader, and then from then on is treated as a part of her, in the most natural okay way. This contrasted to Simon in that his sexuality and eventual coming out was the main plot.
I loved the subtly of her bisexual-ness, and that there were bigger things going on in her life that happened around it but also that happened because of it, and because of her feelings. But I’ll get to that later in the spoiler section of the review.
Leah doesn’t drink alcohol. Finally. There’s not even a huge reason for it, she just doesn’t drink. That and she probably couldn’t afford it anyway. This is exactly the same as me. I choose not to drink, and thankfully I don’t have people persuading me in social situations or anything, it’s just a part of me that people know about. Ad that’s just how it is with Leah, she’s the one in the group who doesn’t drink, and it is such a relief to read a YA novel from the perspective of that character.
“I’ve never understood the appeal of drinking. It’s not like liquor tastes good. I mean, I know it’s not about that. It’s about feeling loose and light and unstoppable. (…) drinking let’s you say and do things without filtering or overthinking. But I don’t get how that’s a good thing.”
Next up, she’s a Potterhead and a Slytherin. Literally the entire world must know by now that I’ve just finished reading Harry Potter for the first time, so this was a weirdly apt book to read after them. There are so many Harry Potter references, compared to the usual amount that I find in books. In fact, the reference on page 111 is an instant classic. I recently did my Pottermore sorting hat quiz and although in my heart I’m Hufflepuffing so hard, I got Slytherin. I will do a whole separate post to talk about hat, but for now I’m taking this as a thing that I have in common with Leah.
Her home life was also significant for me, but I didn’t mention this in my Instagram story. She lives with her mum, who is pretty young. Her mum was pregnant with Leah while attending her own prom. But it’s not that, it’s that they’re not a rich family. Most of the characters in the Creekwood series are richer, with crazy big houses and no money worries.
“…there’s a reason I didn’t order that twenty-dollar sandwich.”
Leah’s life is different. Her mum works a lot but they’re less privileged. Leah only orders a Coke when they go to WaHo, because she can’t afford food. I’ve been there, and I completely understood the position she was in. I’m basically in it now. Yet again, this was an aspect that I was relived to see, and for this to be all as part of one, well-rounded character was really appreciated from my reader perspective.
And this next one is where it gets tricky, and it’s from this point that this review will have spoilers. It’s pretty apparent from the start, as we get to know her, that Leah hasn’t really had any relationships. She’s never even kissed anyone. Okay, so, this isn’t the case with me, but apart from around one month in 2016, I’ve been single for 10 years. And I know I’m 24 and Leah is just graduating from high school, but I felt an affinity with her in this respect, and it made me enjoy the reading experience more.
But. She likes someone. She likes someone who I thought she basically hated at the beginning, or at least wasn’t that close with. And it’s at this point that if you don’t want spoilers you have to leave. Go read the book and find out how it pans out.
“Imagine going about your day knowing someone’s carrying you in their mind. That has to be the best part of being in love – the feeling of having a home in someone else’s brain.”
I felt that the storyline exploring her feelings for this someone was on a different level to the Leah I was getting to know. Eventually this becomes what the whole book is about, and I had to sigh a little bit because YA. I love YA but I don’t love the happy, sappy, seemingly forever love stories that these people get at a young age. But, hey, there’s also a breakup in this one…but the break up enables Leah to have her crush. Her crush is on Abby. In Simon Abby ends up with Nick, and everything seemed right with the world. Abby is also the main link to the characters in The Upside of Unrequited, but I don’t think this should have been tampered with.
Sometimes it seems like Leah is distanced from Abby, yet persists in denying her feelings or getting inwardly expressive about them to the point that it’s like yes you definitely have feelings for her okay we get that. There’s a lot of mental to-ing and fro-ing for her feelings for Abby, and in any other world it would fizzle out because Abby has a boyfriend and is unattainable. I actually wanted Leah to end up with Simon’s sister, because I think they would be so cute together. Abby and Leah just don’t match up to me.
But then Abby breaks up with Nick, and it’s obvious where the story is going to go from then on. And I’m with Leah at first, when Abby is sort of questioning her sexuality, but is essentially still (in the eyes of Leah and the readers) straight girl who just wants to fool around. I’ve been there and it’s not pretty. It was at that point when I knew I’d never be 100% okay if they got together.
I would rather the story explored Leah coming to terms with her art abilities and that she could make money from them, and really find her passion. Leah is a perfectionist, and this is why she feels ‘offbeat’. The book only focuses on her drawings when it involves the drawing she did of Abby, or right at the end when Abby asks her for a commission as a way of asking her for a kiss. I just couldn’t work Leah out in her feelings for Abby. She was either annoyed at her or head over [whatever style of boots she has on] for her.
And of course the whole thing wraps up at prom. There are moments when Leah thinks about the ‘American High School Movie Cliches’ as if this is going to make the story seem like it’s not a cliche. But the ending is. The ending is the reason why this whole portion of the review is a bit negative.
I know I should be happy that the bi girl got the bi girl, because that’s the dream, right? But, I think she got the wrong girl, and whatever sexuality characters in YA are, why do they always have to end up all loved up? Why is it always about love and relationships?
Okay, so I did genuinely enjoy this read, and I love books that get me passionate about characters and aspects of plot. I love most of this book and the way it’s been written, and Leah’s incredible character, but it was just the way it all turned out. I’m happy for her absolutely I’m happy for her as a character in life, I just wanted a different take on the YA story. But thank you, thank you Becky Albertalli for a female bisexual main character. I really could have done with her when I was a teenager trying to work out what all my feelings meant.
Link to the book on Goodreads: Leah on the Offbeat