Huge thanks to Penguin for sending me a copy of Leah On The Offbeat, the next book in the Simonverse! While there were parts of this book I enjoyed, there were other bits that were problematic, disappointing and also personally uncomfortable. Please be warned – there will be SPOILERS for Leah On The Offbeat. If you have’t read the book yet, be warned NOW for spoilers!
When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually right on the beat – but real life is a little harder to manage. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And she hasn’t mustered up the courage to tell her friends she’s bisexual, not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.
So Leah doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friendship group starts to fracture. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high, and it’s hard for Leah when the people she loves are fighting – especially when she realises she might love one of them more than she ever intended…
Before I start this review, I just want to remind people that this is my opinion. If you don’t share my views of this book, that’s fine! I appreciate that this is a very hyped book, and people are bound to have different opinions. My rating actually went down as I wrote this review because I remembered how very disappointed I was.
I enjoyed parts of Leah On The Offbeat, I really did! It was great to be back in the world of Creekwood High school, and to see what dynamics have changed now the group of friends are getting ready to head off for college. I, of course, have wanted to see how the school treated Simon after the events of his book, and it was nice to see him still with Bram and them being a wonderfully close couple. It’s fantastic to see a proud gay teen couple, and there are some truly sweet moments between them that we are able to glimpse into. Although some of the group were still on speaking terms with Martin, I was glad that characters like Abby and Leah refused to speak to him – considering he OUTED Simon, I’m surprised people actually still spoke to him. I know I wouldn’t!
Becky always seems to write quite well, and it was nice to read a book in her style again. She knows what to reference, how to reference it and seems to know exactly how to write the mind of an American teenager. There was awkwardness between prom couples, the worry of growing up and leaving your friends behind was all too real. The topic of racism was dealt with really well – it can be a rage-inducing subject to bring up when someone is racist, but when that person is your friend? Leah dealt with this incredibly well, especially as her friend was pretty much convinced that she hadn’t said anything wrong. Leah called her out on her bullshit racist attitude and rightly so! It didn’t turn into a “Haha I can’t believe you said that” moment, it became a “You are disgusting for saying that and should be ashamed” moment and I am so glad for it.
Now we get into the bits that made me uncomfortable. Throughout the book, a romance between Leah and another character is building. In other reviews, people have called this character by a colour to mimic Simon’s ‘Blue’ in his book and also to avoid spoilers, and I’m going to do the same here – let’s call her Green. Leah has loved Green for a long time, but hasn’t ever acted on her feelings. There is a scene where the two of them kiss, but after that nothing more happens for a while. While Leah is confident in her bisexuality, she has yet to come out to anyone – wires are crossed between her and Green and this leads to upset. Further into the book, after the kiss, Green asks to talk to Leah about sexuality, and admits that she has come out to a family member but is still a little unsure. Here’s where my discomfort comes from. After Green comes out – which is incredibly courageous for a character who has suddenly had these feelings start to make sense – Leah pretty much drags her down for it. She tells Green that her interpretation of being bi – “lowkey bi” as she calls it – isn’t a real label, and that she “can’t be lowkey bi. Just be bi.” I could only see this as hurtful. Sure, some people have considered themselves a little bi – some of the girls in my old school would say they were bi just to be cool, but would then always be disgusted at the thought of kissing another girl. Those feelings were never acted on – but Green has acted on these feelings. It just seemed like such a huge moment of confidence ripped down and stamped on by Leah when Green’s version of bisexuality didn’t match up with hers.
As someone who has always struggled with acceptance of my own sexuality (even today when I consider myself to know where on the LGBT+ spectrum I fall, I still get confused moments) I saw Leah’s words as nothing else but harmful. She has no right to decide what is and isn’t a label when it comes to sexuality. No right at all. Has the author never heard of preference? You can be bisexual and have a preference for women, a preference for men, or like both genders equally. To put down someone who has just come out to you is just downright cruel. Forgive me if you don’t feel this way, but I would be incredibly upset if somebody told me I wasn’t enough to consider myself LGBT+. It’s like saying “sorry, you just aren’t bisexual enough to be part of the gang. Try again when you’ve got more bi points!” Not only that, but it just completely disregards Green’s coming out speech. Leah turns it into an issue focused around herself – and guess what! At the end of the book, they fucking get together. I’m sorry but no. There was hardly enough chemistry and yet at the end they’re playing happy families? I don’t believe it.
Other than that, I found Leah to be quite a mean character at times. Yes she was snappy in the first book, but most times I found her rude, insulting and unfair. She said some quite nasty things to her mum, and she acted like quite a spoilt bully at times. Oh yeah, and don’t get me started on the absolute destruction of Nick’s character. This review is long enough!
Sigh. I had so much hope for this book. So much hope. Please let me know in the comments if you’d like recommendations for books with GOOD LABEL ACCEPTANCE because it certainly wasn’t in this one. Yes diversity was great in this book, but that isn’t enough when characters are dragged down.
Final thought: Your label is real – don’t believe what this book tells you. 2.5/5