Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAY
Also by this author: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Upside of Unrequited
Series: Creekwood #2
Published by HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray on April 24, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
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.
Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is one of my favorite reads from the past few years. Simon and his fabulous group of friends just made me smile the entire time I read that book so when it was announced that Albertalli was doing a follow up book called Leah on the Offbeat about Simon’s best friend, Leah, I couldn’t pass up the chance to read it. I don’t even know where to start aside from to say that I absolutely adored everything about Leah on the Offbeat, especially the main character herself. How do I love Leah Burke? Let me count the ways! I love her snark, her sarcasm, her badass drummer girl persona, that she’ll let an F bomb drop without batting an eye, and most of all, I love that she is so much more than all of the things I just listed. She is a teenage ball of angst just like most of the rest of us were when we were in high school.
It was just so wonderful to visit Creekside High again and see Simon and the gang as they are going through their senior year and getting ready for college. I know it’s been ages since I was a senior but Albertalli so vividly portrayed all of the quintessential senior activities – like senior prom and applying to colleges and stressing while you waited to here if you got into your first choice, and of course constantly thinking about how this is the last time you’re going to hang out with your best friends before everything changes, etc. – that I felt like I was right back in high school myself. Her dialogue is fantastically spot-on, and I especially loved how many Harry Potter references she had sprinkled throughout the book.
Albertalli also does a fantastic job of realistically portraying all of the relationship turmoil that inevitably happens in high school and the impact it can have on even the most solid of friend groups. I think many people will find Leah’s predicament relatable as she feels stuck in the middle watching couples in her friend group break up and not knowing what to do about it. The angst that she experiences as she realizes she is attracted to one of them is also very relatable, not to mention the added stress that she is bisexual but has yet to come out to any of her friends, even though at least two of them are openly gay themselves. Leah’s life is just a big ball of awkwardness beneath that cool drummer girl persona.
One of my favorite qualities about Albertalli’s books is that on the surface, they feel like light, fluffy, feel good stories, but at the same time, they’re also filled with meaningful messages about family, friendships, and love. This is the third book by Albertalli I’ve read and I look forward to reading many more from her. 4.5 STARS
I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on March 27, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
A powerful story of empathy and friendship from the #1 New York Times Bestselling author of If I Stay.
Around the time that Freya loses her voice while recording her debut album, Harun is making plans to run away from everyone he has ever loved, and Nathaniel is arriving in New York City with a backpack, a desperate plan, and nothing left to lose. When a fateful accident draws these three strangers together, their secrets start to unravel as they begin to understand that the way out of their own loss might just lie in helping the others out of theirs.
An emotionally cathartic story of losing love, finding love, and discovering the person you are meant to be, I Have Lost My Way is bestselling author Gayle Forman at her finest.
Set in New York City, Gayle Forman’s I Have Lost My Way is a poignant story that follows three young people – Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel – each of whom has lost their way in life and needs help getting back on track. Freya is an almost famous singer but has mysteriously and unexpectedly lost her singing voice right in the middle of recording her debut album and doesn’t know what will become of her or her career if it doesn’t come back. Harun is a gay Muslim who is desperately trying to figure out how to come out to his parents. He is sure his family will react badly, but he also knows if he doesn’t come out soon, he is in danger of losing James, the love of his life. Nathaniel is a young man who has come to New York with nothing but a backpack. All we know when we meet him is that he seems confused and disoriented upon his arrival to the city, keeps calling a phone number and listening to a message from his father, and that he also appears to be starving. Nathaniel definitely appears to be lost, both physically and in other ways, but it doesn’t become clear until much later in the story just how lost he really is. An accident of fate brings these three lost souls together and as they slowly bond with one another, they realize that perhaps helping each other is a way for them to find themselves again.
I Have Lost My Way is a relatively short book but it packs a huge emotional punch, particularly if, like me, you’re a fan of character-driven stories. Forman presents her story from the perspectives of Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel so that we are able to dive deep into their minds and see firsthand just how lost and alone all three of them are feeling. I also loved the way the book was structured in the sense that even though the story itself only spans the course of a single day, through the use of flashbacks throughout the novel, Forman is able to really flesh out each of these characters and give Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel each a rich history as we explore their complicated relationships with various family members and other loved ones and how exactly they found themselves in the emotional states that they’re in when we meet them. Those flashbacks allowed me to quickly become very invested in the well beings of all three characters even though I only really met them for one day.
I Have Lost My Way was also a captivating read for me because it explored so many themes that we can all relate to. It touches on love, loss, family, loneliness, the healing power of friendship, and acceptance. If you’re looking for a beautifully written and moving read, I would highly recommend this book. The only reason it’s not a 5 star read for me is that there is a romance involved between two of these characters and I think the story would have been even more powerful without that as it was a little distracting. Still an incredible read though. 4.5 STARS