The Upside of Unrequited
Balzer + Bray
April 11, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for honest review
Racing heart, dry mouth, a butterfly cotillion in your tummy–Molly Peskin-Suso’s quite familiar with all the weird feelings that a crush can bring, thank you very much. She’s had no less than 26 of them, and that record can make one an expert. But when her twin sister finds love, Molly might be in for Crush #27 as she juggles her mothers’ wedding, a summer of flirting, and her own uncertainty.
I came to Becky Albertalli’s sophomore novel having never read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, though I’ve certainly heard lots of great things about it. There is an undeniable charm to Albertalli’s writing that draws the reader in like an old friend. She places the focus on small, touchstone details to bring her characters forward: our first introduction to Molly is through her own musings about mermaids. These details aren’t elaborate, nor do they have to be. Molly feels real from the first page.
It’s that dedication to detail that sets Albertalli’s writing apart. Molly’s personality buoys the rest of the novel, touches every chapter as she interacts with her family and friends. It’s easy to care about Molly, and to feel invested in her successes and challenges. I particularly appreciated the way Albertalli handles Molly’s perception of her body.
Molly is a fat girl and she has complex thoughts about her body and how society views her body, and she has space and agency. She acknowledges the way society views fat girls. She thinks about her own perceptions of herself. She decides how she feels. It was exhilarating to read a story about a fat girl that isn’t about Being Fat or weight loss. Certainly Molly thinks about her body, but it never overpowers her sense of self.
In much the same way, Molly’s relationships with her family and friends and new crushes are reflections–but never rejections–of her. We care about these characters at first because Molly cares about them, but it soon becomes clear that each of them are part of Molly, are undeniable influences on her, and it’s a lovely realization. Albertalli draws these characters with honest, careful strokes that fill in Molly’s life and ground her in the story. Cassie was particularly interesting to me, as she isn’t quite a foil to Molly. Their relationship shifts throughout the novel, as sibling relationships usually do, but we never forget that they are twins, as close as two people can be. Albertalli does a wonderful job of highlighting where Cassie and Molly are alike, and where their lives are starting to diverge.
Obviously, romance is one area in which the girls are different, but again Albertalli handles these plotlines with care. Molly’s burgeoning crushes and tentative exploration of her sexuality are important, but so is Cassie’s headlong fall into a serious relationship with Mina. Relationships all along the spectrum are respected and given weight and poignancy–frankly, it’s heartening to see this kind of world laid out for teens to hold close.
While the love triangle is clearly set out, there wasn’t as much obvious conflict between Molly’s choices. Both boys are fun, cute options, and I certainly enjoyed seeing Molly figure out who she wanted to be with, and whether that was even something she wanted in the first place. It was a refreshing change to have a YA novel where the romantic preference of the protagonist isn’t a life-or-death-choice. It was lovely to have that, to take comfort that maybe someday soon, whoever we choose to love can be accepted and appreciated by the people who love us.
Recommending The Upside of Unrequited is easy–how could it not be when Albertalli has written a novel that champions self-love and support, as we figure out who we want by our side?