Book Review: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli 

Leah on the Offbeat
by Becky Albertalli 

Goodreads | Amazon | Audible | Indiebound
Series: (Creekwood #2)
Published: April 24th 2018
Rating: Offbeat
Times read: 1
Recommended by: Myself and pretty much the whole of the book world

It is 2:11. I started this book at 8:34 and except for breaks to emotionally text a friend who is also reading it I read straight through. Which should give you a clue as to how into this book I was. Leah of the Offbeat is the second book in the Simonverse this time following Leah Burke, his best friend as she navigates her senior year and the rocky road to love and friendship. 

Returning to this universe I had I had predictions in the first 10% of the book. I actually wrote them down because I was that confident. NONE OF MY PREDICTIONS WAS CORRECT. I am shocked at that. I read a lot, and I am well versed in foreshadowing.  I am okay with this development.

Leah, as my friend put it, is all ball of angry. With resting bitch face. And I love that about her. So often female characters are soft and happy and cute. It was refreshing to see Leah just be her sharp and biting self without her anger becoming destructive or having to change her personality for her to find happiness. I was slightly irritated by the fact that she was so stunningly unaware of her own emotions. She was like, "OMG I feel a feeling. This is terrible, and I must pretend that it never happened. I had to be reminded that she is a teenager and that is kind of how they are. But I wanted to shake her, and comfort her and sit her down to help her learn to vocalize what she wants and how she feels.  I am not going to spoil love interest a secret. I didn't know so I had to figure it out at the same time as Leah.  I will say that this ship grew on me.

Here lies Leah Burke. Cause of death acute awkwardness.

Beckey Albertalli is a master of writing about the small painful and funny moments of growing up. There is a part where Leah is shopping for a dress and overhears some other girls just talking about their bodies and has a complete internal meltdown. I relate to that scene so hard. I have lived that scene. There are some great discussions in the book about gender, sexuality, body image, and race in this book. For a book that is so funny, there is a lot to chew on. Unfortunately, for me, the "issues" part of this book wasn't as seamless and naturalistic as I would have liked. It was very character heavy some of whom felt completely unnecessary. I also found that I was distracted by my love of Simon any time that he was on the page. "Ermehgerd, Simon! Wait, is something happening in this scene?" 

The Waffle House must be a southern thing. I grew up in New York, and I don't remember ever seeing them, and there definitely weren't any in the midwest when I lived there(Dairy Queen and A&W on the other hand...) I feel as if I am missing out and would like to petition for Waffle House to open an outlet in Beijing. Specifically near Dongjimen station.  Please and thank you.

This is a different book than Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Leah isn't as intrinsically cute and fluffy as Simon. She has a sharpness about her which I really appreciated but isn't as comfortable to read about.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary YA, LGBTQIA YA in general or Simon in particular. I had to stop reading in order to laugh out loud a couple of times (like, prolonged laughing, I was really glad I was alone) and I teared up and one point. 'Nuf said. 

From Goodreads:

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda   by Becky Albertalli cover

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda  
by Becky Albertalli
Goodreads | Amazon | Audible | Indiebound
Series: Would that it were
Published: April 7th 2015
Rating: 100 Oreos with milk
Recommended by: Gillian from Writer of Wrongs

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is the story of sixteen-year-old Simon who is on the edge of coming out but finds himself being blackmailed over his emailing of an unknown boy who he has feelings for.  I just… I mean… You guys… This book. It is sweet, adorable while managing to remain sharp. 

I genuinely love Simon. And not in a normal love for a book character way. No, I love him as if he was a real person.  Much like Marissa in What Can(t) Wait I want to know what his future holds and be reassured by Facebook posts.  I loved that he sometimes struggled to put himself in another’s place and knew that he needed to listen more and be more sensitive. I loved that his avoidance of drama sometimes caused it.   He is a sixteen-year-old boy and this is realistic. 

The supporting cast was amazing.  Every single one of them.  Becky Albertallimanaged one of my favorite things.  She made all the characters of Simons book seems as if they were in a book of their own at the same time.  They all managed to have a character arch and depth.  I loved that he was close with his family.  Parent erasure in YA is one of my biggest pet peeves.  The different relationships that he had with each of his sisters were very well done.  Relationships, even positive ones, aren’t all the same.  Different people bring out different sides of us.

Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn’t be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever. I’m just saying.

It is impossible to talk about this book and not discuss Simon being gay.  What I found particularly lovely about this book was Becky Albertalli allowed Simon to be both gay and happy.  Being gay is not a tragedy that is going to ruin his life. You have probably seen that whole campaign “It gets better.”  Which is immensely important because middle and high school sucks and sucks especially for anyone who is an outlier.  In Simon’s story, we see that not only will things get better but that you should be able to expect things to be okay NOW.  

This is a romance and I 100% shipped it. Blue was so grounded and sensible and it just felt that he balanced out Simon’s exuberance and impulsivity.  I loved their emails. I am a sucker for an epistolary romance. I completely understood why they feel for one another.  

This is my second time reading it.  This time I listened to the audiobook which is read by Michael Crouch. I enjoyed his performance.  He was quite believable as Simon and I got the same feels while listening to this book as I did the first time reading it.

I really liked the writing style.  I am not usually attracted to the descriptors of “adorable” and “heartwarming”. I don’t avoid it but I am not instantly drawn to it the way I am with angst (I am a so easy). But I smiled all through this book and even thinking about and writing about it now I am smiling.  There are worse things to recommend in a book than a perma-smile. If you have somehow overlooked this gem or were just thinking of a reread I highly recommend it.

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From Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. 

Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli cover

The Upside of Unrequited
by Becky Albertalli
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: Yes-ish?
Published: April 11th 2017
Rating: I am so glad I am not high school me anymore.  I was exhausting.

The Upside of Unrequited is the story of seventeen-year-old serial crusher Molly who has to start finding her way on her own as her twin sister, Cass, gets a girlfriend for the first time.

This was a fantastic book that I am never going to read again.  Reading it was like having to sit and watch the painful awkwardness my high school self.  OMG.  I was Molly.  I was Molly to the point that it is humiliating to contemplate and uncomfortable to read about.  Maybe I am not past that high school self and her insecurities because reading this book was painful. I cried at least three times. Once at three in the morning when I got up to read again because I NEEDED to finish the book.

Of course, this book is going to be compared to Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda.  I know that my expectations were unreasonably high because of it. This book read completely differently to me.  For lack of a better word, I found The Upside of Unrequited less cute.  The tone was just as warm, and there were as many funny and touching moments, but I didn't smile the whole way through this book the way that I did with Simon.

I feel my cheeks burn. Here’s the thing: I’m used to being told I have a pretty face. Or pretty hair, or pretty eyes. But it’s different, being called beautiful. Just beautiful, without conditions.
— The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

I loved the characters.  This is much more of a character book than a plot book.  Things happen of course, and I was invested but not as invested as I was simply in learning about who the characters are and who they are becoming.  I loved that Molly could fight with Cass without either of them being melodramatic or turning into a cartoonish villain.  All the characters are beautifully subtle and real.  They all seem to exist beyond the story.  

Yay for diversity!  I loved how casual it all was.  Being gay, or bi, pan, or straight is an important part of people's lives but never takes over.  It isn't a tragedy waiting to happen.  There is no sentence of inherent guilt or unhappiness that comes along with being gay.  All the yes.  The characters are from many different races, religions, and walks of life.  The cast felt vibrant, and none of them seemed to have been added as a token.  Moar of this, please.

Molly is fat.  There is so much about being fat that no one ever talks about.  The whole world tells you that your body has to be this way to be acceptable.  Especially when you are young.  And when you are young you absorb that idea.  Unless I look like the other girls, no one will ever find me worthy.  No one will ever want me.  I will never be loved.  I wish high school me had had a chance to read this book.  So much of what I was feeling is acknowledged and validated. Molly's grandmorther has a way of making her feel self-conscious about her weight in a way that I related to so much. I live in China (you may know) and one of the most common ways that people greet you here is by commenting on your weight.  I still react almost the same way that Molly does by shutting down and having to try not to cry.  I am going to need to get over this.

There is a moment near the end of the book where one of Molly's moms Nadine is talking to her about wanting a boyfriend and holy shit I needed to have that conversation with someone in high school.  Becky Albertelli articulates those things that we hold back and isolate ourselves with so well. I lost track of the times that I found myself wanting to yell into the book, "Other people feel that way, too?!!"

This is also a story about vulnerability.  How opening yourself up to other people can be the scariest thing that you learn how to do. It is also the story of finding the balance between new parts of your life while keeping ahold of the valuable parts of your life that you already have, such as your sister, your community, and your stability.

This book left me feeling a bit hollowed out.  It was an unexpectedly emotional read. I didn't leave it with the same warm and fuzzy feelings that I left Simon with. But, after reading this book, I feel as if I know myself, or at least my past self, just that little bit better.  That's not a bad feat for a book.

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Fron Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly's totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie's new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she'll get her first kiss and she'll get her twin back. 

There's only one problem: Molly's coworker, Reid. He's a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. 

Right?