Details & Summary:
As I write this, I’m not sure how this review is going to turn out. For the past half an hour, I’ve been staring at a blank page, trying to figure out how I feel about this book. The best thing I’ve come up with is this: I have some mixed feelings about it. Let me try and explain…
I’ll start with the things I absolutely loved about this book. First, I think this is one of the most diverse YA books I’ve ever read. At least 50% of the characters are either a POC and / or belong to a minority. There’s the MC who’s fat (and unapologetically so), her sister Cassie has a girlfriend who’s Korean-English, they’re both Jewish, they have two moms who’re a mixed (biracial) couple … and the list goes on and on. In the beginning, it was quite overwhelming to read about so many diverse characters (because it’s rare to have so many as opposed to having one or two) but that feeling quickly disappeared. I liked how the author didn’t draw attention to the characters every time they had a scene. They were just part of the story and everyday life, as they should be.
The Upside of Unrequited is also a body positive book. Molly is fat and, yes, she deals with a grandma who not-so-subtly tells her she should lose a few pounds and she also struggles with issues that stem from her weight BUT she doesn’t change herself. She doesn’t try to lose weight by going on a crazy diet and she doesn’t have a make-over that suddenly makes her pretty. Molly’s appearance doesn’t change over the course of the story and I really appreciate that. It sends an important message to teenage readers who might feel uncomfortable being a higher weight than is deemed attractive by social standards.
“Even if he likes me, I’m not sure he’d like me naked. I hate that I’m even thinking that. I hate hating my body. Actually, I don’t even hate my body. I just worry everyone else might. 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 also gets brownie points for strong, realistic family relationships and friendships. Molly has a great bond with her sister, friends, and her moms but that doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes or disagree and fight. Which obviously makes it that more realistic because absolutely no one has perfect relationships.
Lastly, I loved all the Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda references and “cameos”! Confession: it took a second to realize that Molly’s cousin Abby was in fact Abby from Simon vs. but when I did, it was absolutely wonderful. I loved reading snippets of her life because she’s such a fun character! And Simon makes an appearance too! I mean, what more could you want? Other characters are mentioned as well (such as Taylor with the amazing metabolism) but I won’t go into detail because they spoil the events of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda.
What I don’t like about The Upside of Unrequited is Molly’s obsession with a getting a boyfriend. I mean, I get it. She’s seventeen, she gets insecure about her body sometimes and her friends all have (had) boyfriends / girlfriends. So, yes, it’s realistic for her to want a boyfriend. And I don’t have a problem with that. The problem for me is that it seems like she needs one. This is addressed near the end book, which I appreciate, but it didn’t line up the rest of the book. Like, she doesn’t really start believing she’s beautiful and worthy of love until she gets a boyfriend. And, I’m sorry, but that’s not a message I support.
“I guess it’s just this feeling that my body is secretly all wrong. Which means any guy who assumes I’m normal is going to flip his shit if we get to the point of nakedness. Whoa. Nope. Not what I signed up for.”
“Here we go. Cassie’s soapbox: the fact that I’ve had twenty-six crushes and exactly zero kisses. Apparently, it’s because I need to woman up. If I like a guy, I’m supposed to tell him. Maybe in Cassie’s world, you can do that and have it end in making out. But I’m not so sure it works that way for fat girls.”
It would’ve been so much better if she learnt to feel beautiful on her own and if the getting-a-boyfriend-part was a nice bonus. Or if it didn’t even happen in this book. I really liked Reid and, yes, I shipped Molly and Reid, but the author could’ve just as easily developed a strong friendship between the two and then alluded to the fact that something (romantic) might happen between the two after the book’s events. But at the same time, I understand why Albertalli didn’t. Molly having a boyfriend is a more “logical” ending, I guess.
One last side-note: I know that romance and unrequited crushes / love was the main focus of the book, but sometimes it felt like that’s all there was to the book. I would’ve liked to know more about the characters’ lives outside the romance department. For example, Cassie is outgoing and fearless and protective of her sister, but what is she like as a person? What are her hobbies? What does she want to do when she graduates? What does Molly? What do any of the characters? In short: I would’ve liked to get to know the characters on a deeper level instead of being limited to knowing who their boyfriends / girlfriends were, who they were in love or crushing on, etc. The only exceptions were Molly and Reid, who’re easily the most developed characters.
The Upside of Unrequited is a realistic contemporary read featuring a diverse cast. It’s relatable and funny and features issues many issues teenagers are typically concerned with, but but it also tackles serious underlying issues such as body positivity, LGBTQ rights, and mental illness. Having said that, the message of the book could’ve been improved if it showed teenagers that there’s no need for romance to feel beautiful and worthy of love. You alone are enough.
Actual Rating: 3,5 stars
Normally, I don’t work with half stars, but this is an exception. It’s not as good as Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, but it’s better than other books I’ve rated with three stars. So there you go: 3,5 stars it is!