Pride Month Book Reviews! #3: Leah on the Offbeat
Leah on the Offbeat
By Becky Albertalli
BECKY ALBERTALLI IS THE QUEEN OF GIVING ME MIXED FEELINGS.
I feel like I could end this review there, and it would sum up all of how I feel about this book. But I'll be more specific, because I have a LOT of feelings.
This book is a solid 3 stars for me, but that's kinda misleading, because 3 stars makes it sound like I was "meh" about the book. Nothing could be further from the truth. This book inspired the opposite of apathy in me. I both adored and despised this book at the same time. I want to give it both a 5-star and a 1-star rating.
A few days ago, I reviewed Albertalli's other book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. When I did that review, I sectioned it off into "Things I Loved" and "Things I Didn't Love." My feelings are way more extreme for this one. For this one, the things are going to be "Things that Made Me Want to Marry this Book" and "Things that Made Me Want to Throw this Book into a Dumpster Fire."
I'd give a plot summary first, but you'll soon see why that's impossible.
Things that Made Me Want to Marry this Book:
Leah is just wonderful. She reminds me of myself at ages 18-22. She's obnoxious, she's got a dirty mouth, and she uses weird humor to mask all her insecurities. Leah is the most relatable character I've ever come across. I think the fact that so many readers have had such opposing reactions to her says a lot.
A major criticism I've seen of this book is that Leah seems way too immature at times, but I actually saw that as a strength. Teenagers in books should think and act like teenagers. That means they'll often be immature and irrational, but as long as they learn and grow, no harm no foul. (You'll see in a few paragraphs why that means that this also made me want to throw this book into a dumpster fire.)
Leah is an unapologetic weeaboo who speaks in inside-joke language, reads smutty fanfiction, and wears cute dresses with combat boots. She's passionate about music, she plays the drums, she has a strange unspoken sexual tension with everyone she encounters, and she struggles to come out as bisexual, even to her gay best friend. I've never felt a stronger connection to a fictional character than I have to her.*
I don't want to give away too many spoilers in this review, but I'll allude to something I liked about this without being too specific. There is this awful trope in fiction, whether books, TV, movies, whatever, where two female characters will hate each other for no reason, or it's implied that reason is a guy they both like. I find that this very rarely happens in real life. In my experiences, every time I've been hyper competitive with a girl or disliked her for no reason, I looked back later and realized I was attracted to her the whole time and was in denial. From what I've seen online, that's a very common experience for bisexual girls. Leah experiences that exact same thing. It's kind of subtle and not addressed outright. But it's there. And I applaud it, because it was relatable as hell.
And with that, let's move onto the negatives.
Things that Made Me Want to Throw this Book into a Dumpster Fire:
The plot. Friends, this book has less than zero plot. That is the reason I cannot summarize this book for you. There is no summary. Random things just happen, and not in a cool mumblecore way either. In a really disjointed way. And it didn't commit hard enough to being the book equivalent of cinema verite for it to feel earned.
Becky cannot plot her way out of a paper bag.
From reading the jacket interior description, this book sounds amazing. Bad-ass drummer 18-year-old girl struggles to come out to her friends and family while playing in a rock band and figuring out college plans. None of that is what this book is about. Leah plays the drums in like two scenes, and we never see her practice. As a former teenage musician myself, I can say with confidence that the musical aspects of this book were neglected, underdeveloped, and unrealistic.
This book is a romance, plain and simple. The entire plot is basically, "Leah likes this girl. Does that girl like Leah back? Will they end up together? Let's watch them flirt and go back and forth for 350 pages." And there is a LOT of prom talk. Like, half this book is about prom, which is fine, because high schoolers care about prom I guess. But there are also ten bazillion other books out there about prom. This book just didn't attempt to do anything new or interesting, and as a result, its amount of plot registers in the negative numbers.
You know how in the previous section, I talked about how character-based stories are fine, as long as the characters grow and change? That's the problem. No one grows or changes. Everyone just stresses out about college, and then they go to college. As with the previous book, the only development is that everyone's in a happy relationship. Sure, romance is a genre in and of itself, but when a book takes on the appearance of a coming-of-age story, and then we see very little character maturity or progression, the audience is left disappointed. At least, I was.
For example. There is this scene where Leah's female friend, whom she has a crush on, tells her that she thinks she might be bi. She's insecure about it, though, so she tells her cousins that she's "lowkey bi." Leah gets super mad at her and says that's not a thing, and you either have to be all in or all out, and basically accuses this girl of leading her on. She actually makes the other girl cry because of how rude she is to her about it. At first, I was not bothered by this, because I was like, "Leah is 18 and emotionally compromised by her feelings for this girl. She will be fine as long as she learns why that was wrong to do to her." Does she realize why this is wrong? Nope. It's never addressed again.
And finally, BECKY. STILL. FORGOT. ABOUT. CAL. Okay, maybe that's not fair. Cal is mentioned in passing. Apparently he's dating Simon's sister now? Even though he almost dated Simon in the previous book? Like, that's fine, date your almost-ex's sister if you want? But that's all the mention he gets.
This review actually sums up my opinions on this book really well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9Rv5GuMB8Q
I recommend watching that YouTube review, because I am not confident that my amount of simultaneous love and hate for this book came through clearly enough on this post.
Did you read this book? What did you think? Please let me know in the comments! For real. When I have feelings this strong about a book, I really want to talk to other people about it. Okay, well, now that I'm thoroughly emotionally confused, it's time to get back to Furever Home Friends illustrations.
Join me again on Wednesday for another LGBT+ book review!
*I was a saxophonist instead of a drummer, though, and I'm not sure if Leah would approve.