Book review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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When Molly Peskin-Suso crushes, she crushes hard, and she never ever makes the first move.  It doesn’t matter how many times her twin sister Cassie tells her to put herself out there, Molly keeps her crushes firmly under wraps.  It doesn’t matter that she’s had twenty-six official crushes.  That’s twenty-six chances at rejection, and Molly’s not up for that.

When Cassie starts dating a cute new girl named Mina, Molly’s world changes.  She’s no longer the most important person in Cassie’s life.  Maybe if she starts hanging out with Mina’s cute, hipster friend Will, she’ll be able to see Cassie more often.  Even though Will is the perfect boy to crush on, Molly finds herself thinking more about her awkward, nerdy co-worker, Reid.  But Reid doesn’t get her closer to Cassie, and would her friends approve?

I was a little nervous going into The Upside of Unrequited, mostly because I just really, really loved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And when I really, really love an author’s first book, sometimes I set my hopes too high for the second one. But I needn’t have worried because this book was great.  It was so relatable and took me right back to my teenage years when I was something of a Molly Peskin-Suso.

This is also how you do representation.  There are no token characters.  Every character has their place and their plotline and their own personality.  They just so happen to very diverse.  Molly has two moms, her sister Cassie is gay, and Cassie’s love interest, Mina, is self-described as pansexual. Molly and Reid are both Jewish. One of Molly’s moms is black and Mina is Korean. Molly also has anxiety, is on Zoloft, and talks about how going to parties can be difficult since she can’t mix alcohol with her meds. Oh, and Molly is also overweight and struggles with self-esteem, and actually talks about how the concept of dating is different for her than it is for Cassie, who is thin and confident.

Now, it’s not like this book is perfect.  I had my fair share of issues with it, mostly in the form of characters who refused to communicate.  Let’s all just passive-aggressively text each other with strategically placed periods and not have an actual conversation! Let’s go hang out with other people to make our crushes jealous!  I may not have liked it, but it’s sure realistic.  Anybody who says they’ve never sent a passive aggressive text is lying.

I wish I could have read a book like this when I was Cassie’s age.  YA has come so far in the last decade and I am so happy that the next generation gets to see characters that look familiar and sound familiar and have familiar struggles.  I’ve seen reviews bashing this book for its anti-feminist message, but I think those people are ignoring an important point: that even if you’re a feminist, you can still feel like the last single person alive when all of your friends have paired off and you’re just sitting in the corner with your cookie dough and your Pinterest.  There is nothing anti-feminist about wanting to feel loved and appreciated and attractive, and when your friends are going around having sex and you’ve yet to be kissed, it’s very hard to feel those things. This book is honest, and the honest truth is that we can’t all be perfect all the time.  Sometimes, we wallow in the fact that we’re single, and that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean that we need a man to complete us, it just means that we’re feeling lonely.

I would highly recommend The Upside of Unrequited to anybody who has struggled with their weight or their self-esteem or anxiety.  This is an amazing book that I’m so happy to have had the chance to read.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

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