Book review: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli (Spoiler Free)

I discovered Leah on the Offbeat the same way many people did: through Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Simon vs. is such an amazing book, I devoured it in two days, and immediately followed the author, Becky Albertalli, on all social media accounts. I was definitely planning on reading Leah on the Offbeat – a story with an overweight bisexual female protagonist was something that I, as a bisexual overweight woman, was desperate to read. But with university deadlines and exams looming, I wasn’t in a mad rush to read it. It was only through a preorder offer that I was made to preorder it – if you preordered the book you got a free signed postcard from Becky Albertalli, with a drawing of a scene of the book on it. And I’m so glad I preordered it.

I devoured this book in the same way that I devoured Simon Vs., sitting in bed and not moving on the promise of just reading one more chapter. The characters all develop from where they were at the ending of Simon Vs., going through the stresses of senior year and the threat of change that is graduating and going to college. There are so many romantic moments where I squealed (minor spoiler, but Bram and Simon promposal, anyone?), including one moment where I physically jumped up and down because it was too perfect and cute. And you have to understand, I hate physical exertion – the book is just that good.

I love Albertalli’s ability to write such a diverse range of characters with different experiences as well – Leah is bi, but her experience of her sexuality is not the same as other bi characters within the story, which is brilliant to see. There’s also examples of incidental representation of LGBTQ+ identities peppered throughout, such as a gender nonbinary character who uses they/them pronouns that Leah and Abby meet on their Spring Break trip to visit UGA. None of it feels forced, it just feels like a true representation of the world.

The thing that really set the tone for the book is the dedication at the start:

‘For the readers who knew something was up, even when I didn’t’

Becky Albertalli has spoken candidly about not realising that Leah was bisexual before readers responded to Simon Vs. talking about Leah’s bisexuality – she didn’t write Leah as a straight character, but she didn’t deliberately write her as a bi character, either. She’s said that she knew that if she were to write a third book in the Simonverse, it would be about Leah, so seeing this side of her that the readers saw was a great way to explore Leah’s character.
Some people have criticised this book, saying that they found Leah an annoying character that they couldn’t relate to all of the time, and there were things that she said or did that were aggravating to them. Whilst I understand this criticism, I liked this part of Leah – she’s not a perfect person, she’s just graduating high school, she’s 18 and still figuring out how the world works and how she fits into it. This is what makes her experience feel like an authentic teenage experience. A lot of the struggle she goes through in the book is figuring out how she fits in to the world – she has herself sussed out, but her place in the world is a little harder to find, especially when the world she knows is changing so rapidly. There were moments when I didn’t agree with Leah, especially in some of the things she says to Abby when they have a fight, and the fact that these things didn’t get resolved and Leah didn’t apologise for them, whilst somewhat frustrating, showed that Leah is human. She’s not a finished person (if such a thing is ever achievable) and it shows.
This book is an amazing ending to the Simonverse, I love it and I know I will be rereading it many times. I really hope the “trend” of representation seen within this book and other YA currently being published is something that is here to stay.

Rating: 4/5


My favourite books: His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman 

Something happened this week that I am very excited about: Phillip Pullman released a book in the same universe as one of my favourite book series, the His Dark Materials trilogy. La Belle Sauvage is described as not a prequel, or a sequel, but rather an equal, taking place at the same time as the events of the series. The excitement I feel to read it reminded me of how much I love the original trilogy.

I, like many others I know, was first introduced to the Phillip Pullman trilogy through the film the Golden Compass. I loved it, fantasy is one of my favourite genres, and the universe felt so different, so similar to the world that I knew and yet so magical at the same time. I almost immediately checked the Northern Lights out of my local library, and read it within a week. It was so much better than the film (not in a snobbish way, in the sense that they changed some major plot points and removed some elements to market the film more towards children) the world far richer, the characters more developed, and the plot so natural and yet very unpredictable.

I never normally read books in a series one after the other, as I generally find it somewhat spoils my enjoyment of them – too much of a good thing, in a sense. I made this mistake with the Subtle Knife, choosing to read it almost immediately after finished the Northern Lights. I struggled with it for a bit, had to put it down for a while. Once I came back to it, I enjoyed it far more, although it still remains my least favourite of the three in the series.

The final book in the series, the Amber Spyglass, felt like the perfect finale to the series. The series had gradually built to that point, and taking the start of the Northern Lights and the end of the Amber Spyglass in isolation would leave you completely unsure if they were even from the same series, but the progression throughout the series goes as a perfect pace, and it all fits into place. I can still cry thinking about Will and Lyra’s annual tradition.

This book series remains firmly in my favourites, and I am so excited to read the latest instalment – and, after writing this, I want to reread the whole of the original series!

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: brilliant inside and out

I had heard about The Girl of Ink and Stars many times from many people before I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave – it was Children’s Book of the Month not once but twice at Waterstones, (later going on to win Children’s Book of the Year), was a Financial Times Book of the Year, the British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year, was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Award, and was shortlisted for both the Jhalak Prize and the Branford Boase Award. Not only that, but many people I trust for book recommendations and follow online, such as Carrie Hope Fletcher on YouTube, read it and recommended it. And I, as an aspiring young adult author, really wanted to read it.

Initially, many other books got in my way. Naturally, studying an English and Creative Writing degree, I had a lot of poems, novels, short stories, and plays to read for my course, and these obviously took precedence. Everytime I walked into my local Waterstones, there was a lovely display of copies of the book, in windows or on the tables, and I desparately wanted to pick up a copy, but just… didn’t.

But then I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave. She came to do a guest lecture at my university about writing “children’s” fiction was inspiring, especially for someone like me who sits working on my young adult novel whilst my friends work on amazing pieces that sit nicely under the label of ‘literary fiction’. She was incredibly lovely, no pretenses that the process was easy as she projected the word counts of her numerous drafts to show how the first draft was never the finished product, frank talk about the effect of mental illness on her writing process and how she battled through it, and information about the way things are done publishing-wise either side of the pond. She also discussed with us how ridiculous it is that some books are considered better than others due to their genre, a sentiment I very much share. Needless to say, The Girl of Ink and Stars jumped up my reading list, and I bought a copy almost immediately. And I am so glad I did.

The first thing that amazed me was the beauty of the whole book. The cover itself is gorgeous, but the pages themselves are where the true amazement lies. Each page is decorated like a map in keeping with the protagonist Isabella’s dreams and her father’s job as a cartographer. The result is that every page feels like a step on the journey that the characters undertake, mapping out the unknown of their island. I’ve never seen pages like it, and I urge you to pick up the book if only to see the pages.

The only potential issue with a gorgeous cover is that sometimes the contents don’t quite live up to their presentation.

This book definitely did not have that issue.

The story centres around the character of Isabella, who volunteers to guide a search for her friend after she gets lost in what the people of her village call ‘The Forgotten Territories’. More than eager to explore the island and chart it on a map, following in the footsteps of her father, a cartographer, she ventures in to the Forgotten Territories with the search party, and finds herself facing a lot more trouble than she initially expected.

The exposition of the story is slow and subtle, revealing a world that is not too dissimilar from our own – after all, Kiran Millwood Hargrave does say that the places in all of her novels are real places, but they obviously feature some slight embellishments. The relationships between the characters are great – I particularly enjoyed seeing the friendship between Isabella and Lupe, as a focus on friendship rather than romance is so refreshing to see. The mythic elements were really interesting, and tied well into the rest of the plot.

The only complaint I have about this book is that I feel it could have been a little longer. As it was, at just over 200 pages, I felt the world wasn’t explored to its full potential. I would love to have seen adventures spanning over the whole island in depth, as there are some villages displayed on the map that are barely visited, only for a page or two, and some that are not visited at all. The world of the book was so great, it just seemed a shame to leave it at what felt almost like the bare minimum exploration, especially when the protagonist talks about how much she wants to explore the entire island of Joya throughout the novel.

Overall,  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy and adventure, and wants to read something refreshing.