Title: The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Publisher: Penguin/Balzer + Bray (HarperTeen)
Published: April 2017
“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 cuts me to the core because I’m fat and have experienced these thoughts since my teens. It has made me self-conscious and really irritable with people especially relatives telling me to lose weight (so I won’t be lacking…things – eyeroll emoji). Plus not a lot of fat characters, fat girls, not even Asian ones, are seen as heroes or the centre of the story. I can only name a few body positive ones: Dumplin’, Hairspray and Holding Up the Universe.
So seeing myself in Molly Peskin-Suso of The Upside of Unrequited brought me joy and tears – and is the one that really gets me. So thank you, Becky for writing this book.
**SOME SPOILERS AHEAD**
Sharing the same universe as Albertalli’s Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda, Upside centres on Molly who has twenty-six crushes that have led to nowhere and when her twin sister Cassie meets and starts dating Mina, she becomes drawn to the latter’s best friend Will. Her insecurities flare up. And another boy, Reid, enters her life…
Starting from the very first line (yes I always wondered how mermaids pee), I was swept away with the 300+ page drama filled with warmth and laughs that unfolds. I didn’t realise how much I was invested until it ended – Albertalli has a gift with words and characters. It isn’t another story where a fat character needs a boyfriend or girlfriend or partner to feel validated. As much as I like to read stories about fat characters kicking butt and not in love, I want the romance because I’ve rarely seen them being centred and taken seriously in a love story.
Molly doesn’t alter her appearance and her weight at all. It’s part of her. And Molly Peskin-Suso is more than romance. She spends most of the time caring and worrying about her family (yes more healthy family relationships please) and is passionate in crafts. Was I annoyed that she got the nerd boy Reid? No, because there’s nothing wrong with nerds and fat people. Was I annoyed she liked a hot boy? Nope, making heart eyes at hot boys is ordinary and hot guys are cool unless they’re asses. Was I annoyed that Molly tended to overthink, be afraid of rejection, be awkward in social situations and tear herself down? No, because I understand her and all those things are parts of me. Also I cried over those moments.
The book has Molly worrying over her and Cassie being separated as things change and there’s that need to catch up with your big sister in stages of life. It reminded me of teen me and five years ago me. I struggled to find my place as my high school friends and post-high school ones started to change directions (and I wasn’t an easy person to let things go), not to mention my anxiety tended (still is) to get in the way of maintaining an “easy” relationship.
“I’m bringing a boy to my house. For cookie dough purposes.”
Reid is like my ideal boyfriend. He’s into Lord of the Rings and has a Middle-earth shirt! He’s into you no matter what you look like. Bonus: he’s such a smooth talker. “You’ve been to this supermarket but not with me” (paraphrased). “I am down for this wedding and anything else you want to bring me to, ever, especially if cake is involved.” Marry him, Molly.
I loved the other characters. The whole Peskin-Suso family made me teary. I didn’t connect with Xavier (haha), but the parents are just cool and there for their kids – able to balance “I’m totally down with the young people” and typical parent modes. Cassie “I’m going to destroy that prick/Omg Mina is so hot, I want to make out with her and introduce her to my parents” Peskin-Suso is a badass. She reminded me way too much of my older sister and our relationship (teary, laughing face emoji).
I found Cassie and Mina sweet, and I was all heart eyes. Even though the book is in first-person (in Molly’s PoV), I felt their relationship was solid. Despite most of her scenes having Cassie in them, Mina is a character all on her own. I hope there’s a spinoff about her. *Whispers* I did ship her with Molly…I think they would’ve been awesome together. Olivia is a cinnamon roll and I saw myself in her too. I didn’t see the appeal in hot boy Will. I felt that Molly had more of a chemistry with Reid (and Mina), but I did like Will even if he was a little less fleshed out compared to the others. I felt a little uncomfortable with the racist grandma and homophobic aunt (they don’t explicitly show their horribleness), but I can relate to Molly tolerating them and feeling conflicted as they can be nice people.
Did I enjoy cameos made by Abby, Simon and Nick from Simon vs? HELL YEAH! (Can’t wait for the movie by the way)
I didn’t feel like every facet of diversity was thrown in or thought it was unrealistic that most of the characters represented several marginalised groups. We live in a diverse world.
The book resonated with me so much, but I understand that experiences vary and you might not find that this book has good fat rep or diverse rep. But I recommend reading it 🙂