The Upside of Unrequited by Becky AlbertalliThe Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Published by Balzer + Bray on April 11th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 352
Goodreads

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.

Right?

3 Stars

I know, this is a disaster. The Upside of Unrequited – a novel I’ve been looking forward to for months – only received 3 stars from me. I’ll need some Oreos to get over this. Overall, I liked it fine but I’m so disappointed I didn’t like it more. This is Becky Albertalli, after all. I feel like she wanted too many things with this book. The Upside of Unrequited and I just didn’t click. That spark I had with Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda? Inexistent. There was no chemistry between me and this book. That’s a real case of unrequited love right there.

But there’s this awfulness that comes when a guy thinks you like him. It’s as if he’s fully clothed and you’re naked in front of him. It’s like your heart suddenly lives outside your body, and whenever he wants, he can reach out an squeeze it.
Unless he happens to like you back.

✓ Meet the main character of The Upside of Unrequited: Molly Peskin-Suso. Molly is the kind of character you cannot help but want to protect. She struggles with body issues and insecurities and the idea of being rejected by a boy. Molly is an authentic, flawed, and relatable main character. One minute she lets others trample across her feelings like a herd of elephants, which was infuriating to witness, and the next she deals verbal blows to those around her. I thought her portrayal was very authentic, the way Albertalli balanced a very good-hearted, gentle character with feelings such as anger and jealousy. Though this is largely due to Albertalli’s writing and the first person pov, Molly’s introspection is perceptive and genuine, and it contains sarcasm and funny similes, which I absolutely adored.

Cassie and Mina fall into step beside each other, and Olivia’s right behind them, in her own world, texting. I step onto the escalator and lean into the handrail, trying not to look like a sheep that lost its herd. Molly Peskin-Suso: disoriented introvert, alone in the wild.

✓ I really enjoyed the sibling dynamics between Molly and Cassie. Her twin sister is the complete opposite of her, in both phenotype and personality. Cassie is wild, flirtatious, and reckless, and I loved how Albertalli tickled the hidden vulnerabilities out of an otherwise confident character. Their differences in character brought forth a realistic sibling relationship which contains a strong friendship but also lots of banter and fights. As with Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens, I would like to point out some very strong parental relationships and family bonds.  Albertalli depicted loving, caring, and funny mothers who had an extra sense for their two puberting daughters’ struggles. The parental support was amazing and I love seeing those healthy relationships depicted in YA.

✓ Albertalli’s writing has that special kind of spark which is perfectly suitable and adequate for a YA contemporary. She provides an accurate insight into the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of adolescents like barely any other author I know. Her introspection could be picked straight out of a hormonal teenage brain. To further underpin this accuracy, her prose entails a realistic amount of slang and the word “like” (because omg we use it all the damn time), but she also tickles those facial muscles with lovely humourous passages.

Me: Hey, brain. Let’s think of something cool to say!
Brain: UHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
Me: Okay, it doesn’t have to be cool. Just something semi-coherent…
Brain: UHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
Me: COME ON, BRAIN, GIVE ME SOMETHING.
Brain: *white noise*
Shit. Shit. Shit.

✓ Albertalli’s books are the epitome of diversity. Unfortunately, I also had complaints about this point (see below), but I’d like to acknowledge the inclusion of diversity as a largely positive point. The body issues are zoomed in on very closely, mostly Molly’s self-concept and how it is reinforced or challenged by others. Mental health is a subject in the background, as Molly is on an anti-depressant. I loved how subtly her sister’s homosexuality and “having two mums” was introduced. Albertalli doesn’t seem to feel like she needs to print the word “homosexual” above characters’ heads with an arrow pointing at them. On the contrary, she includes diversity in a very natural, by-the-way kind of way, which is great because this is how it’s supposed to be. I adored the mixed-race f/f relationships employed in this book and how, for example, Cassie challenges the hetero definition of virginity. I also thought the Jewish elements Albertalli, being Jewish herself, placed in the story were authentic and gave the story a special touch. Of course, she questions our defaults again, this time not with regard to sexuality or race, but in a romantic sense (I think she just loves the word “default”).

I mean, here’s the thing I don’t get. How do people come to expect that their crushes will be reciprocated? Like, how does that get to be your default assumption?

✘ This passage will probably make it apparent that I skimmed the premise, yes. When I realized the main character, who struggled with romance, was chubby, whereas her slender, super-confident sister got every phone number she wanted, I almost lost my fucking cool. Connecting unrequited love with overweight is honestly everything that has ever been wrong with this genre. I know plenty of slightly overweight women who wear their confidence like a second pair of skin, while there are so many slender women who feel incredibly insecure. Enough with the fucking stereotypes, okay? It allows for both the main character and the reader to attribute her being unlucky in love to her weight. I realize that this was not the point Albertalli was trying to make, but this simultaneous occurrence of body issues and love life issues is problematic for me.  In a somewhat exaggerated way, this was just another case of a supposedly ugly duckling on the lookout for a boy to improve her self-esteem, to make her feel alright in the body she has. Look, a guy that makes you feel loved and good about yourself is sweet, but this does not send a healthy message, in my opinion. I’m happy Albertalli introduced an overweight character and I’m glad she zoomed in on how this character dealt with body issues, the remarks she got, and how she felt in her skin. But as soon as self-worth is linked to romance, I must see myself to the door.

✘ In an earlier post about book trends I’m tired of, I mentioned superficial diversity. I’m one of those picky readers for whom simply having a dark-skinned or gay or Muslim character in the cast is not enough. I want depth, and this book did not fully deliver. We have an abundance of diverse characters: Besides the Jewish main character, there’s a lesbian twin sister, a bisexual Jewish mother and a homosexual Afro American mother, a chubby Jewish love interest, and a pansexual Korean love interest. Diversity is nothing but an empty shell if it isn’t further explored. Albertalli doesn’t address everything she depicts, and that’s an issue for me. Let me elaborate. 1) The book has literally one passage on what it means to have not only two mothers but of different skin colours. I feel like this is important and should’ve been a recurring theme. 2) She throws a word like pansexual into the room and just lets it hang there. I knew what it meant but considering how many younger people will be reading this book, I honestly expected Albertalli to explain the term and to address what it meant for this character to be pansexual. 3) Molly is on Zoloft (an anti-depressant) but her mental health is never further explored. Why is she on Zoloft, you ask? Based on her introspection, I could fabricate theories but, as a reader, I had no complete understanding why. Since she’s on prescriptive psychotropic drugs, there must be a general practicioner or a psychiatrist involved, yet this is never mentioned as far as I know. I can see what Albertalli tried to accomplish: Diversity as a side element, which means it just exists without having to be addressed since our differences in race, sexuality, religion, mental health, and body type and so on are completely natural and simply a part of our daily life. While that is true, I still prefer quality over quantity when it comes to diversity. At the end of the book, I want to feel like I understand the characters down to their core, including everything that defines them. For me, this did not happen with The Upside of Unrequited.

✘ To be honest, I thought the title The Upside of Unrequited was misleading. I dove into this book believing that this was going to be the revolution of the contemporary genre with regard to sticky-sweet romance. I thought Albertalli was going to do something different, something that didn’t resemble all those peachy endings with rainbows and unicorns. Well, she didn’t. There was no upside to unrequited love, because all the main character did for a majority of the book was look at the downside. And in my opinion, there was no unrequited love, either, because Molly had never actually told any of her crushes that she liked them, so is it really unrequited if your crush doesn’t know you like them? If you didn’t actually get a rejection? I get that Albertalli was trying to focus on Molly’s coping strategies for her insecurities, which was avoiding confronting her crushes and possible rejections in the first place, but then title it The Upside of Avoidance and evoke realistic expectations, please. Because in the end, this contemporary wasn’t the black sheep I hoped it would be. Nope, it was just another sappy, even if diverse and at times gloomy romance. Hell, I’m really not the ideal audience for this, so perhaps you need to take my 3-star rating with a grain of salt.

I’ve never told anyone this––not my moms, not even Cassie––but that’s the thing I’m most afraid of. Not mattering. Existing in a world that doesn’t care who I am.
It’s this whole other level of aloneness.
And maybe it’s a twin thing. I have never truly been alone in the world. I think that’s why I fear it.

Though The Upside of Unrequited had some enjoyable moments, witty exchanges, and a great take on body issues, homosexuality, and sibling dynamics, this book and I were not made for each other. I’d say I liked it but I hold no love for it, as there were several things that irked me. I appreciate what Albertalli wanted to accomplish with her second novel, but in my opinion, not all of the elements she introduced worked in the story’s favour.

**I received this eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**