Book Review: 'The Upside Of Unrequited,' By Becky AlbertalliBecky Albertalli's new young adult novel is a snappy romance that'll bring you back to the pain and elation of young love. It follows two sisters trying to balance their relationship with new crushes.
If you're in the mood for a snappy romance to vicariously bathe you in the pain and elation of first love, Becky Albertalli's The Upside of Unrequired provides.
Molly has a twin sister named Cassie, a summer job arranging knickknacks in a quirky boutique, and 26 crushes that have never gotten her anywhere. Cassie doesn't have this problem — she's the confident twin, and she takes what she wants from romance. Then along comes Mina, and suddenly Cassie is the sister with a crush. As Cassie falls for the first time, Molly feels more and more like she's being left behind.
Luckily, Mina has a dreamy best friend named Will who looks like he might make number 27 on Molly's list. But it's difficult to really commit to the crush when Molly is spending so much time with Reid, her dorky co-worker. He's definitely not cool enough to fall for. Especially not when spending time with him just pulls her further and further away from Cassie and the sisterly bond that's always been the most important thing in both their lives.
The strength of Upside is definitely its cast of characters. It's happily becoming more commonplace to encounter contemporary young adult fiction that features interracial and LGBTQ families, and Upside delights in its diverse cast and acknowledges their experiences without taking on material that would be better left to authors writing from their own experience. In particular, Molly and Cassie's mothers feel very comfortably and vividly rendered, and the realization of their love story and the coming together of their larger family is the real heart of the book.
It's also impossible not to root for Reid as Molly gets over her own awkwardness enough to see past his nerdy trappings. He's the rare kind of person who truly doesn't care what other people think, which is a revelation for Molly, who cares way too much. I think that Molly herself will speak to a lot of teenage girls (and people who used to be teenage girls) with her array of anxieties, her yearning for love, and the blossoming of her self-confidence. Her voice made me remember that feeling of longing so deeply for love and then being vastly uncertain once it came along.
Molly's insecurities will also feel sadly familiar to many. She has an intense habit of self-deprecation, frequently referring to herself as fat in a very negative way. For me, her sense of self-loathing and shame were all too realistic to the teenage experience. Most painful is the moment when her grandmother berates her appearance in the guise of being concerned for her health. If there is a stinging thorn in the happy summer garden of this book, it is Molly's negative body image and the pain she experiences because of it.
Many of these themes will prove timeless, but I do fear that Upside will quickly be dated by its copious pop culture references. It's always a tricky line to toe in works with contemporary settings — not enough and the teen voices don't sound authentic, too many and they seem vastly out of touch in a short time. That may be the eventual fate of Upside, but that's all the more reason to read it now when it's an ideal mix of fresh, snarky, and poignant.
Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and performer. She is an editor at Goblin Fruit, and can be found discussing folklore and pop culture on theFakelore Podcast.