Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. 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. 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 a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.
The Upside of Unrequited is meant to be an empowering young adult contemporary about accepting your body while also showcasing a very diverse cast of characters in terms of sexuality, race and religion. But out of these two aspects I was promised, honestly, I feel like Albertalli only delivers on one side, namely the diversity, and even that I think could have been handled better. It had however a certain sweetness around it that made it a very enjoyable read, lighthearted and with a nice touch of humour.
The book follows Molly Peskin-Suso and her everyday struggles as a self-conscious chubby girl. It’s nice and very much appreciated reading a book that doesn’t feature your typical ya cast where every character is built like a model, which, mind you, is very unrealistic. In addition to this, there is also a lot of queer representation: we have Cassie, Molly’s twin sister, who’s a lesbian, their moms, one also being a lesbian and the other bisexual, a pansexual and a few other queer characters that are briefly mentioned. And if that wasn’t quite the diverse cast already, Molly’s family is also Jewish and half black.
But this was exactly my main problem with the diverse representation. It felt as though the author was trying too much to represent as many aspects as possible all at once and it seemed to me that the characters’ developement and personalities were forgotten in the process and they were reduced only to their marginalization. I mean, it’s great that we got to see a little bit of everything, but if I were asked anything about any of their personalities I probably wouldn’t know how to answer.
I didn’t feel very connected to any of the characters, to be honest. There wasn’t anything in particular about them that stood out to me and the majority of the time I just found them to be quite bland and uninteresting.
Molly’s insecurities were understandable for the most part, but by the half mark I was already fed up. I can understand self-consciousness, but not self-pity. Her hate for her body was mentioned at every fifteen pages and I really wonder how an insecure reader about his or her body would have felt. She was quick to dismiss any possibility of being liked or appreciated because of her body and for a book that was meant to be body positive, Molly’s attitude struck me as quite the opposite.
I felt like she had no character developement whatsoever. By the end of the book, she was no closer to accepting her body than she was at the beginning. I didn’t appreciate the fact that she had to have a boyfriend to finally realize she was beautiful either.
Even if he likes me, I’m not sure he’d like me naked. I hate that I’m even thinking that. I hate hating my body. Actually, I don’t even hate my body. I just worry everyone else might. Because chubby girls don’t get boyfriends, and they definitely don’t have sex. Not in movies—not really—unless it’s supposed to be a joke. And I don’t want to be a joke.
I think I would have liked Molly a lot more if only the author had approached her character differently. I liked her artistic side and the way she acted around Reid. Their relationship was probably my favorite aspect of the book because it was one of those healthy, adorable relationships that I just can’t have enough of.
Beside Reid and Abby, I didn’t like any of the second characters that much. I liked the family dynamics for the most part, but even about this I have some conflicting emotions.
I tuck my knees up and stare out the window. We’re almost at Dupont, heading downtown. And there are so many people out. There’s this palpable energy in the air. It’s the kind of night where strangers start hugging and everyone’s drunk and loud and happy just to be in the middle of all of this. I bet people will remember today, even when they’re old. I bet I will too.
The writing style was what I feared I would dislike most going into this book because I have heard people describe it as quirky and that isn’t something I’m very fond of. But surprisingly, I actually enjoyed it. A lot. It was my second favorite aspect beside Molly and Reid’s relationship. There was just something about Becky Albertalli’s writing style that made me more invested in the characters. It was very succinct and it conveyed just the right amount of emotion, with humorous bits thrown in between the gorgeous descriptions of places and situations that made me a little more emphatic to what the characters were going through.
And it’s a little different with every guy, so it’s kind of hard to generalize—but if I had to describe the feeling of a crush, I’d say this: you just finished running a mile, and you have to throw up, and you’re starving, but no food seems appealing, and your brain becomes fog, and you also have to pee. It’s this close to intolerable. But I like it.
I think it’s actually its simplicity that drew me in and made me love it so much. One thing is sure, I will definitely check out Albertalli’s previous and future works.
Plotwise, this book wasn’t anything extraordinary. It was a lot more predictable than I would have liked, but despite of all its faults, it kept me engaged. I actually finished it in one sitting, it was that fast-paced. Another thing I’d like to mention here is the authenticity of the portrayal of the teenage struggles and how much I could relate to some of the characters’ situations. Growing apart with friends and family, finding your own path, struggling with the need for society’s approval and everything in between. I think all of this was handled extremely well, which balanced out my previous dislike of how certain things were approached.
This book reminded me a lot of The Fosters, so if you’re into that I think you should definitely check it out. I’m in the minority here, but sadly, this book didn’t work really well for me. It had a lot of potential and it was a very realistic portrayal of life and everyday struggles, unlike a lot of other ya contemporaries, but the main character’s attitude toward her body and others in general came across as problematic and it made this book a lot more frustrating than it should have been. I probably won’t reread this book anytime soon, if ever.