Thursday, April 13, 2017
Book Review: "The Upside of Unrequited" by Becky Albertalli
I fell in complete and utter love with Albertalli's first book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (see my original review). I devoured it in less than a day, and it was a no-brainer that the book showed up on my list of the best books I read in 2015.
As you might imagine, the minute her newest book, The Upside of Unrequited, came out, I pounced. I bought it at like 12:01 a.m. on the day it was releasedI set my alarm and woke up to buy it, dork that I am. I tried really hard to keep my expectations from getting utterly out of control, because when you love an author's first book, don't you expectand hope against hopethat you'll love every one of their subsequent books, too?
Molly Peskin-Suso is 17 years old. She's funny, smart, sensitive, and amazingly craftyshe can actually make the things you see on Pinterest. She makes desserts (including safe-to-eat raw cookie dough) in mason jars. She knows she has a bit of a weight problem, but everyone tells her what a pretty face she has, and sometimes her anxiety gets the best of her. But she's also a hopeless romantica fact that can be easily borne out by the 26 crushes she's had on boys throughout her lifetime.
"There's a reason I've had twenty-six crushes and no boyfriends. I don't entirely understand how anyone gets a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person at the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances. It's almost unfathomable that it happens as often as it does."
One night, Molly's twin sister Cassie meets Mina, the girl of her dreams. (Actually, Molly meets her, but immediately knows that she's Cassie's dream girl.) For the first time, Cassie is smitten beyond a simple hook-up: Mina is relationship material. Suddenly Molly finds herself on the outside looking inof course Cassie wants to spend time with Mina and talk about Mina, and she's totally happy for her, but she's a little sad, too. But it's not like Cassie is one of those people who throws everyone else away when she's in a relationshipone of Mina's cute hipster friends, Will, seems to like Molly, so they should totally hook up and they can double-date!
Will is cute and charming and seems to think Molly's funny. And while Molly has proven that she's more than capable of having crushes on boys, with Will it seems like she's more excited about the idea of having a crush on him than actually feeling that way. Maybe that's because she's just met Reid, a chubby, adorable fan of Game of Thrones, Tolkien, and the Renaissance Festival. Reid makes her feel that way, but if she lets herself fall for him, won't it ruin everything with Cassie?
"If I had to describe the feeling of a crush, I'd say this: you just finished running a mile, and you have to throw up, and you're starving, but no food seems appealing, and your brain becomes fog, and you also have to pee. It's this close to intolerable. But I like it. More than like it. I crave it."
Amidst the backdrop of a family wedding, a visit from their wacky, critical, slightly racist grandmother, and the emotional crises of other friends, Molly needs to decide what she feels, and for whom, before she ruins everything with everyone. Including Cassie. It's too much for anyone, much less a 17-year-old with questionable self-esteem and a history of public vomiting.
I really, really enjoyed this book. Becky Albertalli drew me in on the very first page and didn't let me go until the very end, and I'll admit, I was sad that the book ended. While I'll admit I found Molly's inability to express her feelings or thoughts to anyone tremendously frustrating at times, I understand that doing so poses a challenge for anyone, especially someone who suffers from anxiety.
There was just so much to love about this bookdialogue and behaviors that actually seemed teen-like, as opposed to old-beyond-their-years; the flush of excitement that accompanies crushes, first loves, and infatuation; boys I could totally see myself crushing on if I was that age; and the realistic relationships between sisters, friends, parents and children, and those who like each other. Albertalli's characters are so special and memorable that you'd love to be friends with them in real life, even if their parents are probably younger than you. (Sigh.)
A lot has been made about the incredible diversity of the book's cast of charactersMolly and Cassie have two moms, one black and one white, they're being raised Jewish, characters are straight, gay, lesbian, and pansexualbut none of it seems forced, and very little of it is really a focal point. This is just a sweet, special book, about relationships, about finding the courage to believe you're worthy of love, and following your heart, not what people tell you your heart should feel.
If you've not read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, read that, too, and you'll see why I'm a huge Becky Albertalli fan, and why I read her new book on the day it was released. (And then you can join me in my vigil for her next book.)