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.
Set against the backdrop of the legalisation of gay marriage in the US, seventeen year old serial-crusher Molly has never dated, kissed or fallen for anyone. She’s the polar opposite of her twin sister, Cassie, who laughs easily and falls quickly. When new relationships blossom and old relationships change, will Molly get left behind?
I seem to be the only YA fan left standing who hasn’t read Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (yo, anyone else out there want to join my lonely party of one?), so when Upside popped up on NetGalley I was keen to see if the Becky Albertalli hype was justified. My verdict? Yes, it’s totally justified, for the most part.
Becky Albertalli did a really great job of illustrating and dissecting some important themes like sexuality, sibling relationships, body image and coming of age. There are lots of mini-plots which run alongside Molly’s story, which I thought added a lot of depth and a real sense of time and place to the book. Even though Molly is a straight character, the supporting cast of characters really reflects the diversity of modern society. From Molly and Cassie’s two Mums to Cassie’s pansexual girlfriend, Mina, this book includes the kind of young adult characters that today’s teenagers deserve to encounter in their reading, especially in the current political and societal climate.
It’s also important to mention the focus on body image and weight, which doesn’t take centre stage but does have an enormous impact on Molly’s character throughout the book. I really liked the fact that instead of trying to change her weight to please other people, Molly stuck to her guns and remained the way that she wanted to be – the way that she was happy being. There’s been a real push in YA recently to not only present strong, independent female role models, but also to ensure that those role models are realistic and varied. Molly fits the bill perfectly, so huge props to Albertalli for this.
This isn’t an action-packed book, but what it lacks in pacing it makes up for in writing. Although I don’t think of the writing in this book as particularly profound or sparkly, it is hilariously true to life and very witty. I think a lot of people will find themselves relating to Molly’s character in different ways, and that’s where the real brilliance of the authors writing lies: in her characterisation. The characters all have their own bold personalities and quirks, and I really appreciated the level of development afforded to secondary characters like Molly and Cassie’s friends, Olivia and Abby, as well as one of Molly’s love interests, Reid. I know I’m banging on like a stuck record at the moment about realistic parental representation in YA and its importance, but I really do want to take a sec to praise that aspect of this book. The way Nadine and Patty (Molly and Cassie’s Mums) are portrayed in Upside is awesome. Rather than just being there to provide structure, they actually interact with the plot and the other characters. They’re written in a way that I can only describe as lovely, and I adored getting to know them and falling in love with both of them and their relationship with each other.
My main criticisms are two-fold. Firstly, it was always pretty obvious which of the love interests (Hipster Will or Lord of the Rings Reid) Molly was going to fall for. Although I was totally on board when that ship sailed, I would have preferred just a touch more ambiguity in order to really get me to root for one or the other of the pairings. Whilst I loved reading from Molly’s perspective, I felt quite disconnected from Cassie throughout the story, who’s on-off behaviour left me feeling pretty cold towards her. I think had this book have been told using a dual perspective approach with the odd chapter being told from Cassie’s point of view, I might have been able to empathise with her a lot more than I did.
The Upside of Unrequited doesn’t dazzle with pretty writing or whimsical imagery, but what it does provide is a straight-talking, funny look at what it’s like to grow up, grow apart and take risks, even when they scare you. Written with honesty, realism, and diversity in mind; this is the kind of contemporary YA that should be stocked in every school library and every bookshop’s teen shelf across the globe.
Stars out of five:
- Publisher: Penguin
- Pages: 300
- Publication Date: 11th April 2017
- For fans of: Juno Dawson, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, diverse reads, Holly Bourne.