The Book: Leah on the Offbeat
Author: Becky Albertalli
Genre & Themes: YA contemporary, LGBTQ+
So, today I wanted to talk about Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli. This is the first book for the #PrideBookClub which is run by Penguin Platform and lasts all of July and August. There’s a different LGBTQ+ book to read each week – I won’t be taking part every single week, but there are a few books I definitely want to take part in the discussions of and read along.
And that leads us on to Leah…. which I finished a few weeks ago.
So, I have some issues with this book. I actually spoke about it in my Holiday Reads wrap up video, which you can watch here! But even after ranting about it to a camera, and to literally every single person in my life, I’m still angry about it. So, of course, I’ve taken my anger to blogging.
But let’s start with the positives!
Leah on the Offbeat is set in the same world as Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda. Having enjoyed Simon, I was quite excited to delve into this book, especially hearing that Leah, our leading lady, is bisexual.
I enjoyed that we were back in the Creekwood world again. I absolutely love Abby as a character, and I was so psyched that she featured in this book. However, Simon and Blue (no spoilers!), didn’t really feel much like three-dimensional characters. It almost felt like they were there because of the last book, but they didn’t add an overall amount to the story. It felt like they, especially Simon, were 2D versions of themself.
I also found Leah really hard to relate to. She was abrasive, bitter, and rude. There were some moments where I could see where she was coming from, but so much of the time, I was left frustrated by her narration.
With LGBTQ+ books, there’s a tendency and pressure to enjoy it, because there’s queer rep in it. I definitely do this, and I give books with queer rep the benefit of the doubt a lot more. Is this a good thing? Probably not. I guess it’s because there’s so little books with LGBTQ+ rep in, (BTQ+ especially), and so when a book has bisexual rep in, I really try to like it. But, nowadays, with more and more books coming out that have GOOD representation in, it’s our responsibility to call out when a book isn’t okay. And this book is one of those times.
There’s a scene in this book, where a character (no spoilers) comes out to Leah. Here it is, with the other character’s name changed:
[Leah] "So, wait," I say finally. "Can I ask you something?" "Mmhmm." "What did you come out as?" *laughs* "What do you mean?" "Well, last I heard, you were straight, so." "I don't think I'm straight," she says and my heart almost stops. "I don't know," she adds finally, "I guess I'm like lowkey bisexual?" "I don't think that's a thing." "What? It totally is." She pokes my arm. "Lowkey bi." "You're either bi or you're not. That's like being a little bit pregnant."
*a few lines later*
"Well I'm a little bit bi, and I'm sticking with that." I sit up. "I don't get you." "What?" I shake my head. "Lowkey bi, a little bit bi. Just be bi. Like, come on." "What? No." She draws herself up. "You don't get to decide my label." "It's not a real label!" "Well it's real for me."
*a few lines later*
"Jesus Christ." I press my hands over my eyes. "I want you to stop messing with my head." "I'm not-" "Seriously? Lowkey bi?" I laugh flatly. "Otherwise known as what - you're bi, but you don't want to admit it? I'm not saying you have to march in a Pride parade. You don't have to come out. But God. At least admit it to yourself."
HAPPY PRIDE EVERYONE!!1! Fucking hell.
This scene shocked me. I actually had to put the book down and process what I’d just read. Leah has always known she is bisexual, but for her to angrily declare that someone else’s sexuality isn’t valid is just. WHAT. I’m still shocked.
Leah is essentially saying that because this character hasn’t come out as fully-bi, she’s in denial about her sexuality. Just because someone doesn’t, at that moment in time, want to identify as bisexual, that doesn’t mean they’re in denial for fucks sake. It ignores the whole notion that sexuality is a spectrum, and not everyone’s sexuality is the same. It’s not a black and white issue; it’s a goddamn rainbow.
If this scene was readdressed later on in the novel, and Leah realised how unaccepting, rude, and frankly harmful she was being, it wouldn’t be an issue. That would show that the narrative, and Becky Albertalli as the author, knows that Leah’s problematic attitude is that, problematic.
But it doesn’t do that. This scene isn’t addressed again. Leah angrily storms away from the conversation, taking it as a personal attack that this character isn’t sure about her sexuality.
This complete unacceptance of someone questioning their sexuality was so unnecessary. It’s the kind of thing you just wouldn’t see with an own voice novel. As someone who
lol hi family that read this and are surprised is currently questioning their sexuality, and thinks of themselves as low-key bisexual, it was shitty to read.
It’s so important for all authors to write diverse characters, but it’s even more important for CIS/white/straight authors to really do their research and consider what they write really carefully, as writing in harmful dialogue for a plot point that is never even addressed again is just shitty. It shows that they weren’t really aware that the dialogue was harmful to begin with.
Overall, this book really disappointed me. Sure, the book was an easy read, and it was fun to be in the Creekwood world again, but I definitely won’t be recommending it to anybody any time soon.
Have you read Leah on the Offbeat? What did you think about it?