The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Balzer + Bray, April 2017.

Ms Albertalli’s debut novel, upside (2015), was on many best-of lists and her new one, The Upside of Unrequited, is equally as charming and thoughtful.

For 17 year-old Jewish Molly Peskin-Suso, the upside of the 26 unrequited crushes she has had so far is that she has never had the pain of rejection, because they have never gone beyond Molly’s head. The downside, of course, is that she has never know the thrill and joy of being in love.

As she watches her twin sister, Cassie, fall in love with Korean American Mina, Molly realizes she wants more than just a having a crush on someone she may not even talk to, she wants an actual relationship. But is it going to be with Hipster Will, Mina’s best friend, or is it going to be with dweeby Reid, who Molly finds herself chatting and flirting with at work?

As gay marriage is legalized, and the twins’ moms plan their wedding, Molly rejects holding herself back and decides to put herself out there, with all the potential high stakes emotions that brings with it.

Albertalli has the wonderful gift of taking the reader inside the head of her characters. Unlike, say, Jennifer Niven, she writes about everyday, regular teens, but with all the heightened emotions of those years. Molly’s changing relationship with Cassie is at the heart of the book, and it is bittersweet for both of them as they realize that as they move on with their own lives they have to leave some things behind.

Molly refers to herself as “fat”, and while she certainly doesn’t feel the need to change her lifestyle, she has some self doubt about her body and is sensitive to what she perceives as other people’s views: Her grandmother gets under her skin about it, and a comment from a boy at a party incenses her. These conflicting reactions feel entirely realistic for a contemporary teen.

As with many recent YA novels, Cassie’s sexuality is not a big deal and the gender of her partner is largely irrelevant. However, the celebration of their moms’ relationship does hark back to older generations, as some relatives question the validity of it, even as the country moves forward.

Albertalli has a gift of writing easy reading, but not lightweight, novels that speak to the everyday experiences, anxieties, and triumphs of teenagers and I’d thoroughly recommend them.

Thanks to Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss for the digital review copy.

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