by Becky Albertalli
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, 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, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?
I received an eARC of The Upside of Unrequited from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Check out my review of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda here!
I ummed and ahhed over how I should rate this book. It had to be 4 stars, surely? I really, really liked it, but it's not exactly a literary masterpiece. Then I had the not-so-surprising revelation that it didn't have to be to warrant 5 stars - what are ratings anyway? 5 stars means I loved a book an awful lot, but that doesn't mean I love a YA Contemporary in the same way I love a High Fantasy or a Memoir - and I bloody loved this book.
I'm always wary of hype, particularly in the realms of YA, so when I picked up Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda a couple of years ago I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Albertalli's been on my radar ever since, and while I was looking forward to her second novel I was pretty certain I wasn't going to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed her debut, and I was blissfully incorrect.
This book was both familiar and wonderfully different; it felt like an Albertalli book, it was so easy to read, so much so that I devoured it in one sitting after I got home from work, and it's funny. I can't even begin to explain how rare it is for me to find a book, YA or not, that I find genuinely funny and that writes the teenage experience the way I remember it. Just like in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the characters in The Upside of Unrequited are characters I recognised from my own teenage years - in particular, protagonist Molly struck a real chord with me.
I don't think this book will be for everyone, I think there will be people who don't like it as much as Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and people who like it more, but this book felt very personal and I actually got quite emotional while reading it. Molly is an overweight protagonist - and I'm all for more overweight protagonists in YA - but what I adored the most is that this book isn't about her weight or her attempt to lose it. That is such a rare thing, and as someone who has always struggled with my weight, and was very self-conscious during my teens, this book felt like such an important read. This book made me feel as though the way I felt as a teenager wasn't silly, that my feelings then and now were and are valid, and that's, frankly, kind of magical.
I'm not going to say Molly's weight isn't important to the story, because that would be a lie. It's mentioned on a number of occasions that she's overweight, but it's the way that it's handled that's so refreshing; there are people who say and do shitty things because of her weight, and there are times when Molly is self-conscious about it because being a teenager is hard enough without having your body policed by the rest of society, but at no point in this story does Molly even think about losing weight. Her issues with her weight are more about what she thinks other people are thinking, and when she realises that the people worth knowing think she's rad regardless of her size, she opens herself up to people and even admits that she's happy as she is, that her weight doesn't define what kind of person she is. I just can't put into words how happy this made me, and yes I did cry a little because I'm a wreck. Being in your 20s is hard.
Aside from Molly, this book has diversity galore and does it in such a way that doesn't feel as though Albertalli is ticking a box. She's not afraid to use labels - someone in this book identifies as pansexual, which is super refreshing after years of authors not wanting to explore anything but heterosexuality and homosexuality - but her characters aren't defined by them. She knows how to write real people, the kind of people I feel like I might bump into in the street, and I loved all of them and kind of just want to re-read this book already.
I also need to talk about the romance, which has to be one of my favourite YA romances. I'm not usually the type to get mushy over a YA couple, but I loved Molly and Reid so much; they have so much chemistry and they're also both just genuinely nice people and, ugh, my heart can't take it. One of the things I loved most about The Upside of Unrequited, though, was that the book itself isn't really romance focused. There's a lot of talk of romance, particularly with Molly's long back catalogue of one-sided crushes, but this book is as much about Molly's relationship with her twin sister as anything else, and what it means when two people who are so close realise they're beginning to grow up and drift apart. I loved their relationship, and I want to read more positive sister relationships in basically every book I read from now on.
I'm sorry if you were expecting an in-depth review, I feel as though all I've really done here is gush, but I adored this book and coming from someone who doesn't really lean towards YA much nowadays I think that's saying something. Maybe you won't love this as much as I did, as you may have gathered some of my love for this book comes from a very personal place, but even so I think it's well-written, well-intentioned, and such a nice, good book - a perfect read for the spring!