Published by Penguin Random House!
To date, Molly Peskin-Suso has had over twenty crushes, zero of which she has acted upon. For a fat girl, the rates of heartbreak and rejection seem far too high, and Molly has got pretty well accustomed to the novelty of quietly liking someone, anyway. However, when her twin sister — who may well be her actual polar-opposite — meets and falls for Mina, things between the two begin to change, as Molly learns secondhand what it is to be vulnerable with someone and to tread the murky waters of a first time relationship. There’s also the fact that Cassie wants to throw Hipster Will into the mix and make Molly’s potential crush number twenty-seven not just a crush. Then there’s work colleague Reid, dorky and Tolkien-obsessed. But surely she can’t fall for someone with sneakers that white? Can she?
Becky Albertalli doesn’t just set the bar for inclusivity in contemporary YA, and books as a whole. No, in ‘The Upside of Unrequited’, Albertalli depicts exactly what shouldn’t just be aspired towards, but achieved. Every. Single. Time. In terms of diversity. ‘The Upside of Unrequited’ portrays a colourful variation of sexualities, relationships, race and body sizes, and in such a positive and uplifting light, too. Too often exploration of sexuality and same sex relationships are used as a plot device for shocking and heartbreaking story arcs, so it was refreshing to see Molly’s parents, two mum’s, Nadine and Patty, set in the backdrop of such an accepting society, along with Reid’s own mums and Cassie’s relationship with Mina. It made my heart ache for a point in the not too distant future (fingers crossed) where it’s seen as completely normal to be in a relationship with whoever you want, no matter what you look like, how you identify, or what takes residence between your legs. The atmosphere lingering off the pages was so incredibly pure and kind that it seems mad we’re not already there yet.
The ensemble of characters were also such a strong aspect throughout the story. I had moments (the most frequent of which) where I completely loved their quick wit and back-and-forth between one another — Cassie and the Grandma were particularly hilarious. But I liked that I didn’t always agree with Cassie, too. That sometimes she could be cruel and petty, that Mina was a little judgemental of Reid, and their problematic comments on people you marry vs. the people you have sex with. It’s a sure sign of a talented writer when you can offer up different levels and sides to characters that make you both love and question them at the same time, and I think Albertalli really achieved that; particularly with Cassie who was unapologetic about bodily hair and putting boys in their place, but who also clearly still had some growing up and learning to do for herself.
And Molly. Oh, Molly. The ways in which I related to you knows no bounds, both when I think back to me at seventeen and even me now as a twenty-two-year-old. Molly, our glorious protagonist, worries about toeing the line between crush and the potential for something more. She worries a boy won’t be able to see beyond her chubby body, or even see her body in the first place and think it’s nothing less than wonderful. She worries about rejection and taking those first steps, especially when everyone has seemingly kissed and bonked within an inch of their lives at her age. I’ve had these worries and I have these worries. Because making the choice to give yourself over to someone and not know the outcome a minute down the line on whether they’ll say yes or no is scary. And let’s not even consider how you and your new fella might fair up in the next year. The next three? Five? Ten? Rejection is scary and so is navigating being with someone, coming to terms with the fact it’s not just you you have to worry about but this other separate entity. It petrifies me and I think this was dealt with so well through Molly’s character — even if she did end up having a smashing first kiss and first boyfriend at seventeen. Lucky for some.
I loved ‘The Upside of Unrequited’. It’s a close-to-the-heart, colourfully engaging and inclusive contemporary.
“It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person at the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances. It’s almost unfathomable that it happens as often as it does.”
“Because there’s nausea and fog, but there’s also this: an unshakeable feeling that something wonderful is about to happen.”
“And no one warns you about this. No one tells you how hard it is, because, yay, love! And we’re so happy for them! But there’s this sharp edge to it, right? Because yeah, you’re happy for them. But you’ve also lost them.”
“Actually, I don’t even hate my body. I just worry everyone else might.”
Thank you to Penguin Random House via NetGalley for this review copy!*
‘The Upside of Unrequited’ is out now to buy!