Author: Becky Albertalli
Publication date: April 11th 2017
Read: 9th – 12th December
TWs: Fatphobia, homophobia, discrimination against religion and race. (These issues are all challenged and dealt with in a positive manner.)
Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.
There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?
I started this book as a solid, corporeal human, and finished it a melted puddle of joy and warm feelings. Becky Albertalli has created a comforting read that’s cute, thoughtful, and uplifting in all the right ways.
The plot is simple and straightforward, following Molly as she starts a summer job and navigates her feelings for two boys. But it works well because the book’s priority is character rather than plot. The story focuses on examining the connections between the characters and does a brilliant job of exploring our tumultuous relationships with even those closest to us. The author does a great job of gently reminding us that it’s OK to argue and fight with the people you love. It’s OK to grow apart and come back together. Or grow apart and never come back together. We’re all human, and incredibly fallible, and as long as we work to be the best versions of ourselves, and love where we can, then mishaps and slip-ups are not the end of the world.
This wasn’t the only moral message that jumped out at me while I was reading this. Accepting ourselves for who we are is a potent theme in Mollie’s struggles with body image, and I adored the way Becky Albertalli promoted body positivity. She didn’t perpetuate the toxic idea that you have to be thin to be happy (which is trash and needs to be eradicated). Instead she did the opposite, showing that you can be happy at any size, and that Mollie’s happiness comes from accepting her body as it is, not from trying to change it.
The characters are brilliantly-imagined and their diversity is an absolute joy to read. Mollie is fat, Jewish, has two moms, and was one of the most realistic characters I’ve read about in a while. There are other secondary characters who are pansexual, bisexual, POC, Jewish, gay, and fat, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to read a book where the characters that aren’t allocishet outnumber those who are. This, combined with witty dialogues and fun pop culture references, is what kept me picking this book up at every chance I got.
The relationships between the characters were nuanced and believable, and the romance was just wonderful. Watching several pairs of characters grow closer (though I’m not going to spoil you for who) is always enjoyable, but this book gave me far more warm, cosy feelings than any other has in a while. Plus, Becky Albertalli just seems to get teenagers. She shows how tricky it can be for to navigate awkward social situations and a sense of care comes through in her writing.
At times, Mollie complains about seemingly trivial issues, and I’ve seen readers stating that she was too whiny, but honestly? That’s what teens do. When you don’t have real-world or adult issues to deal with yet, you complain about things that are relevant to you. Other problems take precedent. So, for me, Mollie’s whines and complaints were spot on. Her gripes were about realistic teenage issues, and this book is aimed at a teen audience. What more do you want?
In addition to diversity, I’ve read a lot of glowing reviews about this book from readers who are part of marginalised groups. I can’t speak for the representation personally, as I’m not part of said marginalised groups, but I’d direct you to Natalia’s excellent review, and Allie’s insightful review for own voices thoughts. Anxiety and mental health are also discussed and the author seems to handle these issues with the sensitivity and care of someone who’s dealt with them first-hand.
The Upside of Unrequited is set in summer, but ideal for winter due to its cosy and heart-warming prose. It’s a game-changer for diversity, and will bring a lot of own voices teenagers happiness to see themselves represented on the page. We need more books like this in bookstores and in the hands of marginalised readers. I flew through this novel in a few short days and can’t wait to read Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda next.