I’m still three reviews behind, so I’ll get right to it with this one. Having read and loved Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda earlier this year, I figured I may as well read the follow-up, Leah on the Offbeat, especially since it was one of the few finalists for the 2018 Goodreads Awards that I already owned.
The whole gang from Simon is back for senior year, and Simon’s long-time best friend Leah gets to tell her own story. The title is a perfect encapsulation of Leah: a drummer in an all-girl band but not really a girlie-girl, more voluptuous than most of the girls she knows, relatively poor compared to the other kids in her school. And like Simon, she has a secret. Not even her friends know that she’s bisexual, and it’s all starting to wear on her.
Leah’s smaller group of friends isn’t as close this year, with Simon and Bram and Nick and Abby paired off. Leah finds herself spending more time with peripheral friends, but she doesn’t complain, trying to coast through the year without any major blowups. One of these peripheral friends develops a crush on her, going so far as to ask her to prom, and though she isn’t interested in him that way, she talks herself into going along with it, half to keep the peace and half on the off-chance she changes her mind.
But before long, things start to fall apart. Leah is trapped inside her own head, with no one to talk to about her own crush, worried that she’ll destroy her what’s left of her friendships and embarrass herself in the process. By forcing down her feelings, she grows irritable and defensive, and if she’s not careful, she’ll alienate everyone she knows.
This book was pretty middle-of-the-road for me, getting an extra bump from my own familiarity with and affection for the characters. I was somewhat disappointed that Albertalli didn’t give us much character development in this book, relying a little too much on Simon for exposition. The characters are all there, but aside from Leah and a few other key players, none are given much to do, with most of the action taking place inside Leah’s head in the form of her own teen-angsty arguments with herself.
I will say the last part of the book saved it for me, with Simon and Bram and the others featuring more heavily in the lead-up to prom. The longstanding friendships are brought back to the foreground, and Leah finally gets out of her own head and starts talking. I also liked how the relationship with her mom played out. Leah is ready to get out there and be an adult, but her mom wants her to enjoy being a kid while she can. Though this isn’t a new concept, I thought Albertalli handled it well.
So while I wish the rest of the book could have been as strong as the last section, I ultimately enjoyed it for what it was, not for what I wished it had been. I’d recommend it if you’ve already read and liked Simon, but it’s too dependent on that book to stand on its own.