Leah on the Offbeat

Leah on the Offbeat (Creekwood, #2)Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Leah on the Offbeat” is the “sequel” to “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.” It doesn’t take the plot forward so much as delves into the lives of some of the other characters from the first book. Leah had a minor role in “Simon” as his best friend (although for a best friend, she didn’t appear in a lot of the book). In her titular book, we get to see her conflicts as she feels pressure to come out as bi, now that Simon has come out and the world didn’t end.

The problem is that Leah is one of those people who doesn’t process conflict or adversity well. Instead, when things don’t go the way she wants them to she goes with the scorched earth method and shuts everything and everyone down. She also has a very low self-esteem so she never believes anyone would want to do good things for her and assumes people are lying when they compliment her.

I read this book in one sitting, not because it was engrossing, but because it was like watching a reality show. It was just interesting that wanted to know how it ended, but I stayed for the drama. And there was a lot of it! It almost becomes comical at the end. Leah has a crush on one of the members of the friend group and she does not handle it well. By the end of the book there’s hints this person might reciprocate her feelings but it seems so orchestrated and convenient that it doesn’t feel sincere. Then there’s a whole manic pixie girl trope that shows up and it just spun out of control.

We may have had a friend in our lives who is like Leah. That friend was probably not always easy to be around, but was very loyal. They may like this book and can relate to a lot of it. You, however, may be too triggered to really enjoy the book.

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Creekwood, #1)Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Simon is a junior in high school and early on we learn that he’s feeling isolated and lonely because he’s gay, hasn’t come out to anyone, and is looking to find a community where he can feel like he fits in with who he is. Right around this point in the novel, a post comes up on the school’s unofficial Tumblr page from a use by the name of Blue who’s expressing the same idea of being gay, not out, and feeling alone and isolated. Simon creates a username, Jacques, and so begins a correspondence between Blue and Jacques. Neither one knows who the other is, although Simon tries to guess who it is. Intermixed with this coming-out, love story, is a major plot of homophobia, black mail, and cyber-bullying.

I’ll admit I saw the movie first, which was so good I decided to read the book. I won’t do a movie review here, but suffice it to say, the movie was better. There are several elements of the book that I felt were important for the book’s audience. The primary element that stood out was that Simon breaks a lot of stereotypes. In breaking stereotypes I feel like the book is furthering the representation of LGBT+ community and in YA I feel that breaking stereotypes helps young adults feel like they have a place in the world. The second element I appreciated is that Simon never plays a victim even though some very terrible things happen to him. While he’s not stoic, he faces the challenges head on. At the same time we see that it’s not easy to fight back against bullies and homophobia.

Some issues I had with the book is that Simon can come across as callous at worst or just oblivious at best. Yes, he has a lot going on, but he lets all of this get in the way of his friends, two of whom he’s known for a long time. It’s not til the end of the book that he’s also confronted with the fact that he’s not a perfect, but when he goes to make amends, he dials it in so much it’s almost pointless. I don’t know if this is problem with the writing or whether he’s just written that way to show that some people are just this way.

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The Burning Bridge (Ranger’s Apprentice #2)

Taking off from where The Ruins of Gorlan left off, The Burning Bridge returns with Will still apprenticed to Halt and learning that while he has natural talents, there’s a lot he still needs to learn.  We learn very quickly that Morgarath is plotting revenge on Araluen and Will and Halt believe they’ve discovered his plans.  Oh but they haven’t!  Soon they realize they are being double-crossed which leads Will, Horace, and Gilan to Celtica to find out what’s going on.  Trouble ensues and the whole place erupts into war.  Luckily, Will and Horace’s quick thinking at least gives the army of Araluen an even playing field.

bridgeAnother excitingly quick paced read, this time we have a female protagonist join the gang evening out the male dominated cast. I was worried that once she appeared on scene that she might become the archetypal medieval female who’s pretty and smart, but doesn’t have much agency and who is included only to serve as the romantic interests of the male protagonists.  Luckily Princess Cassandra hasn’t fallen into that trap…yet.  She’s smart and witty, keeping her identity secret because she’s aware she could be used as a pawn in someone’s political machinations.  She also makes it clear that she doesn’t need protection but also appreciates the camaraderie that Will and Horace offer her.  As of yet, there’s not even a hint of romance, but I’m just waiting for that shoe to drop.

There were parts of the story, especially on their mission, when I thought Will et al were being way to cavalier about the consequences of what they were doing. However, I realized that instead, they were taking the consequences for being part of the adult world of the Ranger Corps. It’s never easy to think that young people would have to sacrifice their futures on behalf of adults, but sadly that’s a lot of the time what happens in our own military. This is a sobering thought. There’s also a scene in which a young woman is confronted with bald misogyny and reminds us all that this isn’t just a problem in the Middle Ages, we still face this in the 21st century.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Since reading Me Before You, I’ve become very distrusting of authors who write characters with disabilities without having that experience themselves.  This is not the case with Mark Haddon and his character Christopher who is on the autism spectrum in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  Mr. Haddon has had some experience working with young people on the autism spectrum which informed his formation of Christopher, but Christopher’s disability is never the center of the novel.

dogInstead, Christopher’s unique perspective is merely the background to his story searching to find love and autonomy at an important moment in his life.  By not making the disability the central focus point, I think that Mr. Haddon escapes the pitfalls that other authors have fallen into.  The reader becomes aware that Christopher has something unique about him implicitly.  Christopher mentions it in the first few chapters but it quickly becomes clear that this is not what the book is about.

Christopher has his heart set on sitting for the A level exams in math.  However, family drama gets in the way and he learns that in life, even the ones you love will sometimes get in your way.  But through using what power and autonomy that we have available, we can make a new path to our dream.

I appreciated that the young man is never victimized. You almost forget he’s on the spectrum. What stands out is the people who adjust their behavior, not their expectations, in order to relate to him. From a neighbor lady who adjusts to asking yes or no questions, to a police officer who is very clear about his expectations, to the father who clearly understands Christopher and does whatever is necessary to maintain a relationship with his son. It’s a lesson to all of us.

Ship Breakers

Continuing on my quest to read through the Printz award winners and honorees, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi was the next one on the list.  The setting of this YA dystopian adventure novel is in the future of the U.S.  Apparently there was a cataclysmic shift in weather and the seas rose swamping much of the gulf coast.  Hurricanes became stronger with the power to completely decimate cities.  The book centers specifically on the Louisiana coastline, west of New Orleans.

ShipOpening the book in media res is usually a device that I appreciate, but not in this case.  Bacigalupi, in my opinion, doesn’t do a good job at helping the reader make sense of what happened to make the world the way it is.  It was frustrating because the setting plays such a big part in relationship to the plot.  This was a large factor in what kept me from really enjoying the novel.

The story focuses on a group of teenagers who are stripping oil tankers, stranded on their beach, of the copper wires.  They all live in hovels on the beach in a community that reminds me of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro or the shantytowns of Johannesburg.  There’s a clear distinction between the haves and the have-nots.  This becomes one of the themes of the novel as these poor kids come into contact with wealthier individuals.

There’s also a theme of “family”.  As in, those who are biologically related to you don’t necessarily make them a family member.  The protagonist, Nailer, has a father who is an alcoholic, drug user, and physically abusive.  Due to this, Nailer spends most nights with his best friend and her mother. When push comes to shove, pun intended, Nailer abandons his father with only a little guilt because he knows that if he had stayed he would’ve been killed.

Besides the setting, the other I had with this novel was the way it ended.  It literally just stops in the middle of the teenagers walking towards the ocean.  There’s no resolution to the action that happened earlier.  I’m pretty sure it’s because Bacigalupi had already planned to write the sequel and I’m sure if I read the sequel I would find that it begins exactly where this one left off.  The crazy thing is that even with these to significant issues, I was absorbed by the story.  Much to my chagrin.  So, in essence, I would say the writing is mediocre, but the story itself is engrossing.  This one was a B- in my book.