I knew that I wanted to read The Upside of Unrequited as soon as I saw the cover. Although simple, there is something charming about it when paired with a summary that suggests everything turns out okay for our main character, Molly Peskin-Suso. The heart-faced emoji, although a small feature of the cover, conveys a lot about the story that unfolds within. Becky Albertalli does a great job describing what it’s like to be a teenager. From the awkward and uncomfortable moments to the wonder of finding oneself in a world full of opportunity, we experience all of the ups and downs of life as a teenager coming to terms with her identity through the incredibly relatable, Molly.
There were so many great things about The Upside of Unrequited that I had a difficult time rating it. Albertalli covers a number of important themes within the novel and, at its heart, Molly’s story is a true bildungsroman. As you make your way through the story, you watch as Molly faces a number of challenges that allow her to accept who she really is, despite her fears of rejection and isolation. All in all, The Upside of Unrequited is an uplifting and, at times, incredibly frustrating read that will take you back to your teenage years.
This is an ARC review of Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited, which releases April 11, 2017.
*Special thanks to HarperCollins for allowing us to review ahead of publication.
This review contains spoilers and quotes from the book.
From the very beginning, I developed a love-hate relationship with The Upside of Unrequited. For a young adult novel, the language seemed a little simple. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with the use of short and relatively simple sentences, I felt like something was lacking where the writing was concerned. Instead of feeling clear, Albertalli’s style felt a little awkward. Despite my personal distastes concerning the style of the novel, the slightly awkward prose helped to increase character relatability.
The style fits the novel perfectly. Written entirely from Molly’s perspective, the language of the novel feels like a casual conversation. The novel reads like you are inside Molly’s head, which does a great deal for the reader. Immediately, you enter Molly’s world and feel everything that she feels. Every moment, happy or sad, awkward or uncomfortable, brings you one step closer to revisiting your adolescent years.
Molly stands out as a character that is different from the standard YA norm. She’s anything but perfect, but she is rather unique. To start, Molly is a twin who is the exact opposite of her sister, Cassie. Molly has had 26 different crushes, but feeling uncomfortable with herself and awkward around boys, she has never acted on her desires. Furthermore, Molly has anxiety. When paired with the immense amount of pressure put on teenagers to be in relationships, it’s no wonder Molly is struggling when it comes to fitting in and finding her first love.
We all know what having a crush feels like, right? Being in love with someone is a great feeling, but when you are too shy and embarrassed to talk to somebody, especially when you don’t feel like you are good enough, is a terrible feeling. Molly is relatable because she represents the side of us that insecure.
I’m not talking much. I guess I feel a little self-conscious. So then of course, the act of talking starts to feel like this huge, impossible thing. I get like this sometimes. I get locked into a cycle of not speaking. It’s like every time I think of something awesome to say, I rehearse it in my head so many times, I forget whether I’ve said it out loud yet. And I think it goes without saying that awesome one-liners are decidedly less awesome when you repeat them by accident. Better not to risk it.
— excerpt from Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited
Throughout the novel, we watch Molly grow and transform as a character as a result of her interactions with a number of other characters. We learn that she is afraid of rejection because she is unhappy with herself. Although her family supports her and she has caring friends, she feels pressured by the standards of society on beauty. We see Molly comparing herself to others constantly (something that is all too relatable in today’s society). Her anxiety and fear are only made worse when her grandmother comes to visit and makes comments about her weight (a compulsion we later learn is from her own insecurities as a young woman).
Despite Molly’s anxieties, we see her come to terms with who she is as the events of the novel unfold and it’s beautiful. Faced with many of the typical trials of being a teenager, including choosing right from wrong in a number of difficult situations including whether or not to attend a party and drink, sneaking out at night, and going against a parent, Molly learns from her experiences and transforms as a person.
Instead of following in the footsteps of her sister, Molly stands up for herself and starts making decisions that strengthen her character. Most importantly, a number of situations force her to speak up, something that she has always been afraid to do. Through interactions that force her to talk and make decisions on her on own, Molly transforms dramatically as a character. Finding her own voice not only strengthens her relationships with Cassie but awards her new opportunities for love. Realizing that the main reason for her lack of a relationship is her own inability to speak openly, Molly’s increased communication and understanding of herself opens up new avenues with two potential love interests, Will and Reid.
Besides Molly’s struggles with anxiety and insecurity, the development of her romantic interest was incredibly relatable and heart-warming. There’s something special about being in a relationship that makes reading Molly’s experience exciting. I loved reading about her falling in love. Not only was it incredibly touching, but it made the story feel complete. By accepting herself, Molly is able to achieve the one thing that she has always wanted – acceptance from others.
For all of the good things about The Upside of Unrequited, there were a number of things that bothered me. Although Albertalli does an incredible job tapping into the thoughts, emotions, and desires of teenagers, there were times where I felt like it might have been too over exaggerated (or maybe I was just an isolated teen who never experienced these things until I got a little older). On the one hand, talking about relationships, insecurities and anxieties felt incredibly relatable. Furthermore, exaggerating topics that are exciting and panicking over situations that could potentially end up poorly were spot on.
On the other hand, however, the idea that sex is a constant topic and is something that happens all the time seemed a little unrealistic. In the same vein, the idea that teens are given the freedom to stay out, drink and party also seemed over dramatic. While that type of thing certainly happens in college, it seemed a little unlikely that things of that sort happen that often in a high school setting. There were a number of situations in which I found myself hoping that the parents in the novel would be a little more strict and intervene in the lives of their children more (in fact, a number of these situations did occur, and oddly enough, I enjoyed them immensely).
One of the absolutely incredible things that Albertalli does is incorporate a unique and diverse cast of characters. Featuring characters of different body types, sexualities, and races, The Upside of Unrequited has it all. Molly and Cassie have two mothers (Nadine and Patty) and are sperm donor children. They have a mix raced half-brother, who has the same donor father as them (his biological mother is Nadine, while Patty is the biological mother of Molly and Cassie). Patty turns out to be bisexual, Cassie is a lesbian, while her eventual girlfriend, Mina, is pansexual. Furthermore, the events of the novel take place when gay marriage was legalized and the novel ends with Nadine and Patty getting married. It’s a wonderful experience and the openness with which differences are accepted without question throughout the novel demonstrates that our differences don’t matter in the least (something that should be more readily accepted in society today).
All in all, The Upside of Unrequited falls in-between three and four stars for me due to its irresistible charm. The Upside of Unrequited was a wonderful, uplifting read that I devoured in less than a day. Featuring a number of relatable situations and circumstances, Albertalli’s latest novel will have you laughing through all of the awkward moments and cherishing all of the intimate moments where family and relationships are concerned. Full of diverse and unique characters, you won’t be able to stop reading Molly’s story until you reach the very end.