Leah on the Offbeat (2018) by Becky Albertalli (author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda, turned into the movie Love, Simon) is so worthy of the 2018 Goodreads Choice Award that it won. It’s a young adult contemporary F/F romance, full of sarcasm, Harry Potter references, and more time with the characters of the Simonverse.
If you haven’t watched Love, Simon, do that first, or, even better, read the book and come back. Leah is Simon’s best friend, a drummer, a perfectionist, and only child of a very-young mother in her group of friends who have older, more professional parents and larger families. It’s their senior year of high school, set in the Atlanta suburbs, and Simon is part of the “perfect” couple with his boyfriend Bram.
Leah is a curmudgeon at the same time as she is a deeply closeted bisexual. Even when Simon came out as gay, only Leah’s Mom knows she is bi. She is being pursued by the lovable doofus Garrett at the same time as she is having feelings for Abby Suso, who is suddenly single because she doesn’t want to do a long-distance relationship when she gets to college. A member of Leah’s all-girl band is a racist jerk when Abby gets into University of Georgia but the bandmate doesn’t, Leah holds her accountable, but she can see how her group of friends has a limited shelf-life since they are all soon headed their separate ways. Albertalli captures the mixed feelings of high school graduation very well.
And Leah is fat and doesn’t apologize for it, nor does she diet. Her body is the size that it is, and doesn’t really factor in to the plot or whether Leah is seen as attractive or not. It’s not about Leah losing weight or finally “accepting herself.” Because her self-esteem is basically OK, she agrees to a beautiful prom dress. I could so relate to the dressing room scenes with her Mom (who was awesome)–finding cute clothes as a fat high schooler in the ancient times of the 1980s was a challenge, even if, against all odds, your family was not anti-fat.
Some reviewers have critiqued that nothing much happened, but I don’t think it was meant to be a plot-driven book. The characters and dialogue were so well-done, and I laughed out loud many times. Leah is the “resident fat Slytherin Rory Gilmore” that I didn’t realize I needed to know better. And, having just sent my only child off to college, I loved reading about the experience from the kid’s perspective.
I highly recommend it–the romance was cute and I loved the bigger, anti-racist themes as well. And after reading Albertalli’s coming out as bi in her thirties, I appreciated the book even more.
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