Leah on the Offbeat: Very Very Offbeat and Hurtful to Me

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.

Review:

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.”

V: “What?”

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:

 

43 thoughts on “Leah on the Offbeat: Very Very Offbeat and Hurtful to Me

  1. i relate with this so much. Honestly i couldnt understand why more people weren’t talking about the lowkey bi thing even though it was very hurtful for me, i only recently wrote a review about the same problem, and you’re literally the only person i’ve seen addressing this up till now ❤

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  2. Thank you so much for your thoughtful review Marianne! I’m a bit surprised this bit of dialogue was inserted, because usually Becky writes with such care and sensitivity. But I also don’t appreciate it, and I’m so sorry it hurt you. As someone whose sexuality is questioning, myself, I would be especially hurt if someone I was interested in told me to put myself in labels. While this book was on my TBR, I’ll definitely have to be wary of this part. It’s tough to cheer for an mc who is trying to police another girl’s identity and doesn’t apologize for it later.

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  3. what i don’t understand is why don’t more ppl talk abt this???? i mean……….. leah MADE HER CRY WHEN SHE CAME OUT !! how do so many ppl read it and not mention this???? how r we celebrating an f/f book when it has “rep” like this?? :////
    i wasn’t rly looking forward to this book much anyway but ur review made me drop it to like the end of my tbr.

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  4. Hmmm that’s interesting. I heard a few people mention it but I thought it was fixed by the end of the story and that Leah learned from her mistakes. Did that not happen?
    Because I find it okay to have characters who aren’t exactly right in the beginning of the story so long as they change and grow and learn through the story to emerge as a better person. Obviously, if they don’t really grow (see: The Black effin’ Witch) and there’s only 100 pages of weak growth after 500 pages of racist & homophobic comments, then yeah. I’m not going to be happy.
    I hope that Leah learned that what she did to Violet wasn’t right because label policing shouldn’t be condoned.
    I haven’t read this yet but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it when I do–my friend is letting me borrow her copy next week.

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  5. Oh wow. I haven’t read this book or even Simon yet but going just from that bit you quoted makes me think Leah is a really shit person. I’m sure she’s generally not or people wouldn’t love her so much but yikes that’s not okay. This is the exact kind of thing that makes me think I won’t ever tell anyone about how I identify. The fact it was never called out or questioned in the book is a problem.

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  6. This was the EXACT scene I had an issue with, and i LOVE Albertalli’s books (including this one). Especially because Leah shames Violet even though shes not even out to anyone except her mom? Pretty hypocritical imo.

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  7. I totally understand why this is upsetting. Overall, I found that I didn’t like Leah’s voice. She was much too abrasive and easily shut down anything she didn’t like to hear. I had such high hopes for this one, but it just wasn’t my favorite.

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  8. I haven’t gotten to this part yet, but wow. I’m so saddened that this is in store. That’s a terrible scene to have included, even if there had been some growth which there clearly isn’t. 😦 I’m disappointed and let down.

    Thank you for writing this review. I’ll be making sure to keep an eye out for this scene and talking about it in my own review.

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  9. Yes! I agree this scene was really uncomfortable, unfortunate, and confusing. It also made me wish the book was about Violet instead, because I would have loved to know more about how she was figuring out her sexuality, since Simon also knew for sure his identity. Both sides are cool and all but that was the point that made me really want to hear more from Violet. (Great use of the name by the way.)

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  10. Thank you so much for this honest review. I bought this book and was partially so excited because of the fat/bi rep (hello, it me!), but I was wary because of some slight issues I’ve had with Becky’s other books in the past. Now, I feel so “meh” about it, but I’m glad to know what to look out for if I do read it. I honestly might just put it up for trade at this point. Either way, I’m so sorry you’ve been getting attacked for this review. You don’t deserve it at all. ♥

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  11. This is such a good review- I’m really sorry that scene was so harmful. I can’t say I read it that way BUT something about it rubbed me the wrong way while I was reading and I think you helped articulate why. I didn’t like that Leah was being so judgmental and harsh, it seemed really over the top and surprising to me in the context. And I also wished for more swoony cute scenes between them. The way the author developed the relationship felt a little like an afterthought and that bugged me. But that being said, I also agree with all your good points. I love her writing style, the friendships, and the humorous moments!

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  12. First of all: thank you for being so brave and posting this. I know it can be really scary to come forward and critique such a beloved book. Even though I don’t identify as bisexual anymore, I have in the past, and always used phrases like “lowkey” or “kinda” when describing my old label. So seeing this, brings back some bad memories. I’m really disappointed that no one else addressed this. This has the potential to be so harming to those that are just coming to terms with their sexuality, or are still questioning. Again, thank you for bringing this to light. I’m sure that this is going to help prevent a lot of pain for people in the future.

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  13. I’m glad I didn’t pick up this book because I’m sure I would have been terribly upset reading that scene. I’ll consider picking up Simon but I don’t think this will be read by me. Thanks for the recommendations at the end!

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  14. The thing is, sexual attraction isn’t ever fifty-fifty (which Leah implies it to be), and bisexuality isn’t limited to ‘half men-half women” attraction. To claim so not only disregards the fact that having a sexual preference leaning towards one gender but still being attracted towards other genders, but not as often, is actually normal, but also is, quite frankly, blatantly transphobic, because bisexuality does NOT exclude nonbinary, gnc, agender, and third gendered people. So, in extension, it not only disappointed me that Leah belittled and policed Violet’s sexuality, but she was also /wrong/ and never recognized or apologized for that.

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  15. I’ve been identifying as bisexual for ten years now but it’s only very recently that I started noticing all the different labels out there, all the possibilities when it comes to sexuality. Of course I knew of the.. “more known” labels – I don’t know how to say this exactly -, but there are so many things about the LGBTQIA+-community only now getting clearer to me; only now I’m starting to find out about a lot of things. Simply because it isn’t really overly talked of in my life, let alone having some kind of information source where I can find everything I want to know. It’s hard since things are very subjective sometimes and I keep finding out more and more things we should keep in mind. [The latest being the pronouns. I’m absolutely horrified of ever using the wrong pronoun for someone now?!]

    In that regard, I honestly didn’t even feel the event you mention as problematic at the time I read LOTO. Right now? Changed my mind. It could’ve been done better. If it would’ve been addressed afterwards, that would’ve solved some things – but not everything. I understand it’s somewhat a characteristic of Leah to react the way she did; but she should’ve made it right later on.

    A thousand times thanks for this review; people guided me to it because I wanted to know why some people called LOTO problematic but never pointed out why they were saying that. 🙂

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  16. I really liked the book but I totally agree with your critique of that scene. When I read it first too, I really did have to go back and re-read the scene a few times because I was caught off guard. I think the scene could’ve been handled a lot better and I feel like that scene was there to add to the drama so when Leah and Violet finally get together it’s like 50-70 pages later in the book.

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  17. I agree to an extent with your review. lets start with the agree. i fell like Leah as a main character wasn’t strong enough but as a supporting character was fine. she was to headstrong and easily offended for my liking particularly when she overreacted to Morgan’s comment that Abby/violet (could be different in other countries i don’t know)(i’m from England) only got into Georgia above her because she is black.I also felt personally offended when she told Abby/Violet that there was no such thing as lowkey bi. sorry as a bi person who was lowkey bi for 2 YEARS i can say that that fact is completely incorrect. i felt like Leah was a terrible person to Garret(her prom date,again to repeat could be different) and should have outright told him that she didn’t go to the game and that she was not as into him as he obviously was for her. however i feel like she did attempt to reconcile her actions but never,as you have said, formally apologised. Even though i did feel offended or thought ‘oh god why you so stupid’ at times i thought the book was overall OK but never as good as love Simon/Simon vs the homosapians agenda. Please respect my opinion as i respect yours.

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  18. I haven’t read LOTO – but I did read the back of it at an airport, in consideration of buying it. Here is what put me off. She couldn’t ‘muster the courage’ to tell her openly gay best friend Simon she’s bisexual. Of course, I haven’t the read the book, and they may give a reason. Could somebody who has read the book help me out? Otherwise, I stand by what I’ve said, and that this book is weaker than kombuchka.

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  19. I agree with all your points, but there’s one I’d like to also mention. It felt like the book was almost contributing to the “bi girls will cheat on their boyfriend because there’s a girl they like better,” stereotype/phrase. Especially since it’s not own voices.

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