The Upside of Unrequited Review
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli: My Review
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
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.
This is a difficult book to review because I'm not quite sure how I feel about it.
I found The Upside of Unrequited to be a very fun book to read and I finished it pretty quickly. But that doesn't mean to say I didn't have issues with parts of it. I thought the author articulated an impressively diverse cast very well and the representation was good - Molly is an overweight Jewish girl, her and her twin Cassie are sperm donor babies and have two biracial moms - but for many of the characters I felt there was a lack in the development of their personality and quirks; instead they became defined by the illustration of their particular eccentricity.
Molly was an interesting protagonist for me. Throughout the book I thought her portrayal of and response to the general adolescent issues of family, relationships and self-esteem were mostly very honest and I can see how she could be a very relatable and comforting character for a lot of readers. However, at the same time I found her to be pretty two-dimensional and I wanted to know more about her passions and interests aside from obsessing over her crushes and the fact that she hasn't been kissed. Her inner narrative also went in pretty tiring circles as she discussed her feelings about her body, her twin, her crushes and then back again. The cumulative effect of this meant that she came across as a pretty juvenile thirteen-year-old instead of a seventeen-year-old.
Beside the clear diversity in the cast, the overall concept of the story wasn't anything I hadn't read about before in YA contemporary - we have an insecure virgin who longs to have a boyfriend and feels inadequate to all the "cute" and "hot" girls around her, then finally finds her worth when it turns out that a boy reciprocates her feelings. In my opinion, the premise of a self-proclaimed "fat girl" only gaining self-confidence when her latest crush doesn't reject her is a pretty derogatory depiction of and attitude towards body image, completely disregarding the idea that fat girls don't need to find love in a boy to feel content with themselves or should live in fear of being rejected just because of their size. And yes, I know that this book is only telling the story of one girl and the way she feels, but Molly is a fictional character, and fictional characters in YA contemporaries are moulded for a wide audience of readers to find comfort in, to identify with, or to gain an understanding of a certain experience or feeling unknown to them through the eyes of someone else. For me, the depiction of body image in this book is one I imagine some readers may find insulting and definitely not a representation that is very fair or should be interpreted as true to what it is like to be overweight. Nevertheless, this is just my opinion and not necessarily something that will bother other readers.
Overall, I decided to give this book 3.5 stars because there was certainly some humour, a lot of diversity and an enjoyable story. Sadly, I have docked it 1.5 stars due to the fact that some of the messages were not ones I could get on board with and I couldn't particularly engage with the characters beyond their marginalization.