Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, out now.
I blush and swoon and am essentially the heroine of a romance novel. Except with 100 percent less kissing.
Whenever I think about Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited, I just want to shmoosh my cheeks together and make a loud screeching noise. (Great mental image, eh?) This book means a whole lot to me – I don’t think I’ve ever identified with a character as much as Molly Peskin-Suso. I am struggling to organize all of my thoughts about the book into a cohesive blog post, dear reader, because they’re flying at my eyeballs one after the other and I want to write them all at once.
Let’s start with my experience reading the book. I was lucky to first read it last summer, when I was an intern at HarperCollins Canada. I read it in two days, and during that time with the book in my hands, I laughed, cried, smiled, frowned, made weird noises and used a lot of sticky notes to write down quotes later. The thought of waiting half a year for it to be in the world was unbearable, but in a way it ended up being nice, because it meant I could re-read it in a time that wasn’t tooooo close to the first read. The second time around, there were fewer noises and tears, but more sticky notes and an increasing swell of warmth in my heart.
Because chubby girls don’t get boyfriends, and they definitely don’t have sex. Not in movies — not really — unless it’s supposed to be a joke. And I don’t want to be a joke.
This book stands as a) the first book I’ve re-read in a long time, probably since mid-series Harry Potter and b) one of my absolute new favourite books ever. I’d be really surprised if it wasn’t my #1 by the end of 2017 – it definitely is right now.
I mean, here’s the thing I don’t get. How do people come to expect that their crushes will be reciprocated? Like, how does that get to be your default assumption?
The Upside of Unrequited is about a 17-year-old girl named Molly Peskin-Suso. She’s a bigger gal, but with a big heart to match. (Also nice thing to note about the book – Molly’s comfortable in her body, not once mentions losing weight, but it does affect her self esteem at times, which is normal.) She’s sensitive, crafty and hella confused about life. While she’s counted up to 26 crushes in her short lifetime, she’s never had a boyfriend, and that’s all she wants. But when her twin sister Cassie mentions that Molly has never put herself out there or been rejected to warrant feeling rejection, it gives her a push to open up a bit more, just in time for crush number 27. But with that comes vulnerability, something Molly is used to protecting. Plus Cassie has her first girlfriend, and Molly is missing their twin dynamic, which causes unfamiliar stress for Molly.
There’s so much of myself that I see in Molly. Besides the pudginess, long brown hair with bangs, dresses and leggings, Jewishness, craftiness, Pinterest love, openly on antidepressants-ness, and even the token skeptical facial expression, I see myself especially in the ways that she perceives herself and how she thinks people perceive her. Some of her thoughts are ones I swear I’ve thought before, too. When I was grade school, I had a lot of crushes. And in the few times I ever decided to act on them, they went terribly wrong. I remember feeling like I couldn’t ever admit who I liked, because it made me vulnerable to embarrassment – people could judge me for who I liked, or they’d tell others, even the guy, who would most definitely be grossed out that someone like me liked them (yes this happened). Admitting that I liked someone felt like admitting a weakness, which, in retrospect, is a huge bummer that I was conditioned to think like that. That even continued into adulthood. It does a number to a gal’s self esteem. But it happens, and we see this with Molly. Those closest to her know about her crushes, but one of her hugest struggles in the book is admitting that she likes someone – for some reason she can’t tell her sister and best friend, mostly because this time, this crush feels different, and this time, she thinks he likes her back, something else she’s freaked out to admit. I just want to hug her. When I read parts when she’s worried or upset, I feel them along with her. There are a few moments in particular that hit me so hard that they made me cry.
Even hearing the word “Netflix” has a way of centering me. Netflix means not having to suck in your stomach or think of anything smart or adorable to say. It means a whole night of not wondering what people think about you. No alcohol, and no flirtation, and no confusion, and every organ calm and settled.
I really loved the family dynamic in this book, too. While Cassie annoyed me because she was completely oblivious to her sister and her spiralling mental state, it was real. Cassie was so focused on her first real relationship, too, and it made her act selfishly and lash out at her family. And their moms are lovely and setting the story to be in Washington DC when gay marriage was made legal made it even cuter and lovelier for them to get married.
And then there’s Reid. Oh, Reid. Aka the guy Molly has fallen hard for. They work together in a hip gift shop and when Molly asks Reid what his favourite item in the store is, it’s a card. So, he was a done deal for me. (Also he’s super sweet, confident and swoony.)
“I love not doing work,” I assure him. And it’s true. Not doing much work is my favourite thing. And my other favourite things include: being around a lot of mason jars, rearranging table displays, and teasing geeky boys about their fondness for historical queens.
And that brings me to my next point of this post — as I mentioned above, Molly is super crafty, something I obviously also identify with. She does a bunch of specific crafts in the book, mostly for her moms’ wedding, which was so cute to visualize. So I wanted to share all the kinds of crafts she does in the book! Becky Albertalli was wonderful to share her book’s Pinterest board with me, which is a gold mine (omg the white sneakers), but here are the big crafty projects Molly worked on (this doesn’t spoil anything, don’t worry)!
Paper bead strings – though imagine them colourful like the rainbow and on a long garland
Cookie dough in jars
Painted mason jars and animal figurines – centre pieces for wedding tables
Fabric banner – I’m thinking of trying this soon, it looks adorable, and I have lots of fabric scraps!
Cake banner topper – I made one of these recently for a friend’s engagement party cake!
I am so glad The Upside of Unrequited exists, and that Becky was the one to write it. I admire the way she interacts with her fans (and she’s doing double duty these days with this and the Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda film!) and you can tell that she put a lot of herself and her readers into Molly. Plus, Becky is a damn fine writer. Thank you so much, Becky.
I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for something sweet, adorable, and relatable. I know I saw a lot myself in Molly, and I know others do too, but I have a feeling that even if you don’t identify as much as I do, there’s something in here for you. I could go on and on about this book, but I think this has been enough!
Also, I must draw your attention to Simini Blocker’s illustrations of Molly and Reid because it makes my heart BURST.