Leah on the Offbeat (Creekwood #2) by Becky Albertalli
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.
So… Leah on the Offbeat. I initially rated this book 4 stars on Goodreads and talked about how it was so cute and how I enjoyed it, and to some extent that was true. However, something about it kept bugging me and I just couldn’t pinpoint why… until I looked through my annotations.
Let me start with LOTO’s good points, because despite my low rating of this book now, I still found enjoyable things worth mentioning. Becky’s writing is as wonderful and engaging as it’s always been, and in that aspect the book was easy to read. There was lots of humor and snark, and I have to say that I cackled out loud at the “American Grill” scene.
Leah as a protagonist was snarky and abrasive, but I saw myself in her a lot. I saw myself in the way she would lash out or push away people to not get hurt, or how she would use her sarcasm as a front. Leah’s awkwardness and self doubt, and even the fact that she wasn’t rich like her friends really resonated with me.
I loved that this book like its predecessors included diversity seamlessly and effortlessly; Leah being fat and bi, lots of characters of color, mention of an enby character, etc. This was all great to see and I enjoyed reading these parts.
I really wish I could keep these points with me forever because the rest of the book however was disappointing and one particular part was so hurtful that basically overshadowed my overall enjoyment of it.
I guess I should get it over with and mention this scene, and because I haven’t seen any people mention in their reviews who the love interest is, I’ll be calling this character “Violet” (get it? Like Simon & Blue, now Leah & Violet… moving on).
SO, Leah and Violet have had many interactions by this point, and while Leah has feelings for her, she thinks Violet is straight. Violet herself had mentioned previously she only liked guys. However, in this scene Violet comes out to Leah as “low-key bi”. This is the whole scene:
V: “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?”
L: “I don’t think that’s a thing.”
V: “What? It totally is.” She pokes my arm. “Lowkey bi.”
L: “You’re either bi or you’re not. That’s like being a little bit pregnant.”
V: “Well, I’m a little bit bi, and I’m sticking with that.”
L: I sit up. “I don’t get you.”
L: I shake my head. “Lowkey bi, a little bit bi. Just be bi. Like, come on.”
V: “What? No.” She draws herself up. “You don’t get to decide my label.”
L: “It’s not a real label!”
V: “Well, it’s real for me.”
So… I had to read this scene a couple of times, because… I couldn’t quite comprehend why Leah, a bisexual character, was policing another bisexual character’s sexuality. Violet tells Leah that she came out a few days ago to some of her family members, but that she’s still figuring things out. However, Leah completely shuts down Violet and makes her feel bad about her sexuality; makes her feel bad about questioning whether she’s straight or not. From the summary of LOTO we know that Leah has been out as bi to her mom for a while and she is sure about her identity. Good for her, really. But Leah’s outright refusal to let Violet choose how to find the words to identify herself? That really hurt me for a lot of reasons.
Violet herself says: “You don’t get to decide my label” and Leah immediately shuts her down with “It’s not a real label”. But, it’s real for Violet.
This just seems like Leah is saying that being “lowkey bi”, that not knowing what your sexuality is, is wrong. It feels like Leah is calling Violet Not Queer Enough, and that is really not what I expected from this book at all.
This especially hurts coming from a non own-voices perspective, as Leah never apologizes or retracts what she tells Violet, even when V is visibly upset and crying. There is no other mention of this scene and the book could have well done without this part completely.
The only thing we see at the end of the scene is this:
L: “Look, I’m fine,” I say finally. “Okay? You’ll figure this out. You’ve got this. I’m happy for you. You don’t owe me anything.” I exhale, shrugging.
V: “That’s not—”
L: “Everything’s fine. We’re friends. I’ll see you at prom.”
After Leah basically ruins Violet’s coming out by making this about herself, she says a few cursory things and then leaves.
This scene made me flinch and I had to put down the book for a while, because I just couldn’t believe it. I understand Leah’s personality is “harsh” but to this extent? Especially when Leah herself is bi? Why did we need a scene where a bisexual girl polices another bisexual girl’s identity and makes her cry for not knowing what it was?
For days I told myself I was overreacting, and even tried to put aside my concerns and just celebrate the fact that a f/f queer book was having so much hype, but this kept nagging and nagging at me. I know there are other people who feel the same but haven’t been able to voice it, which really sucks as a community that is supposed to be open for everyone.
This scene aside I have to say I wish I had seen more romantic moments between Leah/Violet than the ones we saw. Half of them were one sided because Leah didn’t know that Violet was bisexual, the other half would end in Leah either getting mad at her and storming off, or some misunderstanding that would cut them off (I really do not want to think about that first kiss scene at all because I still get heartbroken thinking about it). I wanted all the cute and swoony moments I saw in Simon vs or Upside of Unrequited, but here I just didn’t see as many.
This review is almost at a thousand words so I think I’m going to leave it here. I love Becky’s other books, and Becky as a person is really sweet and kind. It kind of pains me that she might/will see this review but I just can’t keep quiet about it anymore. If you related to LOTO, that’s good for you, truly. I don’t wish any ill will on Becky or on any of the people who have read and genuinely enjoyed this book.
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
If you want to read some great (to me) own voices f/f romances, here are some:
- Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour (lesbian MC)
- Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee (bisexual MC)
- Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde (bisexual MC)
- How to Make a Wish by Ashley Blake (bisexual MC)
- Lilac Town series by M. Hollis (pansexual, lesbian, queer, bisexual MCs)