Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli



Title: The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Format: E-Book

Page Count: 336

Rating: 

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly's totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie's new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she'll get her first kiss and she'll get her twin back.

There's only one problem: Molly's coworker, Reid. He's a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

Right? (taken from goodreads.com)


“Because I have to admit: there's something really badass about truly, honestly
not caring what people think about you."

I haven't picked up Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Albertalli's first novel, which received a ton of praise), but I decided to give The Upside of Unrequited a shot after reading several great reviews. I've been reading a lot of heavy novels lately, and I was really in the mood for a light pick-me-up. However, that wasn't exactly what I found.

The Bad:

Immediately, Albertalli throws several topics at her readers that aren't commonly addressed in young adult literature. Lesbian parents, queer teenagers, mixed-race families, weight problems, pansexual people, teenage sex. This is all within the first 60 pages. I was kinda like "Wow, alright there, let's slow down a little," simply because it seemed like she was trying to check so many boxes at once. I'm always happy to see more diversity in YA literature, but I'm always skeptical of authors who seem to be trying a little too hard to pack their novels with under-represented themes.

Feminism is also a pretty obvious theme, and yet again, I felt like Albertalli was just pushing things a little bit too much. We jump quickly from topics like bikini waxing to the "concept" of virginity, and each thing practically screams WE NEED TO FIX HOW YOUNG ADULTS THINK ABOUT GIRLS AND SEX. I mean, don't get me wrong, I totally agree that teenage boys are brats and women should feel empowered by more than just their sexual appeal etc. etc., but like, I expected a tad bit more subtlety. I can think of many authors who address similar issues without sounding like they're writing a lecture about feminism.

Additionally, I don't really agree with the idea of feminism that Albertalli portrays. Molly beats herself up for calling herself a feminist and worrying what boys think or caring about sex/physical attraction. Direct quote: "I spend a lot of time thinking about love and kissing and boyfriends and all the other stuff feminists aren't supposed to care about. But I am a feminist." I bristled at the idea that a seventeen-year-old girl should feel bad because she worries about her first kiss or wants to feel attractive. So what, I'm not a feminist because I spend time thinking about my boyfriend and how I like kissing him? Please. Feminism is so much more than being able to decide how you shave and ignoring what men want you to do. It's about self-worth and equality, and sometimes I didn't get that feeling from The Upside of Unrequited. Granted, I do think Molly eventually learns that it's okay to like boys and want love, but still...

Honestly, Albertalli paints kind of weird picture of romance in general. For instance, she makes a big deal of the fact that Cassie texts her love-interests in the same room as her parents. "It's funny because Cassie texts girls at the table and in the living room and in the car, and everywhere. I honestly think she'd coordinate an orgy in front of all of us .... But I can't text a boy in front of my moms. I just can't." She treats it like it's some weird, terrible thing, and I can't tell if that's because Molly feels so uncomfortable about relationships or if it's Albertalli's portrayal of romance.

The Not-So-Bad (Okay fine, the Good)

I really enjoyed the references to pop culture scattered throughout the novel. Molly does things like "zone out on Buzzfeed," spends time on Pinterest, and watches a lot of Netflix. I think that's partially why a lot of people claim she's an extremely relatable character. Not every young adult heroine has to be into super obscure bands or books.

Molly is overweight and she's never been kissed, and obviously, these two things make frequent appearances in her mental monologues. She constantly second guesses herself, even when she shouldn't. At first I worried that I would be driven crazy by her constant need to doubt herself, and I was right. She comes across as extremely paranoid, and I found myself shaking my head at her almost self-centered need to compare herself to everyone and everything. However, I do think there is some value in Molly's struggles, especially for female readers who are uncomfortable in their own skin. Her fear of rejection is very human and understandable.

Reid was by far my favorite character because he was (a) never annoying and (b) very genuine. Every time he entered a scene, I was happy to see him bring out the best in Molly. Their cute love story was pretty much the only reason I didn't give up on the book entirely. Well, that and the whole sisters-growing-apart theme, which I found pretty interesting.

Overall

The Upside of Unrequited isn't a bad book, and I can see why many readers really enjoyed it. Having said that, I personally had a lot of issues with it. I debated giving it three stars, but in the end, I went with two and a half because the problems I had with it were too big to overlook.



I guess I didn't realize exactly what I was getting into with The Upside of Unrequited.
Although I liked some of it, I really struggled with the way social issues are presented.