by Becky Albertalli
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 mum, and her life is decidedly less privileged. 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.
Check out my reviews of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited here and here!
I don't read much Contemporary at all, but I always make an exception for Becky Albertalli since I read and loved her debut back in 2015. Then her second novel was released and I managed to love that one even more, so it was only natural that I was excited to pick up her third novel - especially as it was returning to a character from her debut who I wanted to know more about.
High school is coming to an end and college is approaching, and Leah Burke is starting to think that maybe it's time she lets someone other than her mother know that she's bisexual, something she's known about herself since she was eleven years old. After Simon came out as gay it seems like now is the best time to do it, but she can't shake the feeling that things will change, and not for the better, if she's honest with her friends, and when she starts to realise she has feelings for her friend's girlfriend life gets even more complicated.
I wasn't the biggest fan of Leah in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, there were times when she seemed quite nasty and I have a hard time warming to nasty characters, but reading from her point of view was such a breath of fresh air and I began to realise that perhaps part of the reason I didn't like her was because I saw some of my own weaknesses in her. She doesn't try to be likeable and yet those who know her know that she's a good friend, particularly Simon, and I loved her unlikeability - particularly because she becomes more and more aware of it as the novel wares on, and when she does anything or says anything particularly unkind she does try to atone for it in her own way.
My sexuality isn't something I've discussed much but it was so refreshing to read a book from the point of view of a bisexual girl who acknowledged feelings for other girls and for boys. Leah isn't defined by her bisexuality but it's still a big part of who she is, mainly because she feels like she can't tell anyone about it, and that's something that really resonated with me.
My favourite aspect of the novel, though, had to be Leah's relationship with her mom. Leah is from a single parent family and her mom was pregnant with Leah when she attended her own high school prom, but there's none of the prejudices about teenage mothers in the book and their relationship is just lovely. I'd love to read a story about Leah's mom and her boyfriend to be honest, they were adorable.
This is the first novel of Albertalli's I haven't given five stars to and that does make me a little sad considering the bisexual and women-loving-women rep, but as much as I enjoyed the relationship that developed between Leah and Abby in the book I couldn't help thinking that Nick and Abby both became kind of shitty people in this novel. There is an instance where Leah judges Abby for not understanding her own sexuality, which is not okay considering everyone discovers these things differently and this is a big change for Abby when she's always identified as straight, and to be fair to Abby she always apologises when she does something wrong. However, I couldn't help feeling that Leah deserved better throughout the novel. Whether she meant to or not Abby does play with her feelings a little and Nick became such a different character that I was struggling to understand why Simon and Leah were friends with him in the first place - I couldn't remember any of his good qualities from the first book.
Not only that, but I'm still not sure how I feel about Leah and Abby pursuing a relationship so soon after Abby ended a relationship with one of Leah's best friends - as annoying as Nick was in this book, this still felt strange - and there was a lot of convenient pairing off at the end that I didn't quite believe, which is a shame when one of the reasons I love Albertalli's books so much is that she portrays teenagers as actual teenagers and she paints a picture of high school the way I remember it. It's something I've noticed in YA Contemporary in general, which I think is another reason I don't read much of it - why can't people just be single? It's okay not to go to the same college as your high school girlfriend/boyfriend, something, to be fair, Albertalli does explore with Simon and Bram's relationship.
All that aside, I loved the humour, I loved Albertalli's writing, I loved Leah and I'm glad this novel exists and I'll read whatever Albertalli does next. She's still a firm favourite author and I'm so glad that, with this book, Leah finally got her own happy ending.