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.