This touching novel about sisterhood, family, body image, and first love is further proof that Becky Albertalli is a powerful voice in contemporary young adult literature. In The Upside of Unrequited, Molly has, by all accounts, an amazing life: two loving moms who adore each other and their three children; a fierce twin sister; a cute baby brother; lifelong friends who have her back; a cool multicultural neighborhood; and a fun summer job. But she's consumed with a sense that's something's lacking, because she's never actually been in love. Sure, Molly's had the epic 26 crushes, but they were all from afar and unrequited (she barely spoke to the objects of her crushes). Through Molly's journey of discovering what falling in love feels like, Albertalli has given voice to a character so often ignored and pushed into the jolly sidekick mode: the chubby girl who's sure she'll die a virgin because adolescent guys, even in progressive Montgomery County, Maryland, are more likely to say "no fatties" or "you're pretty for a big girl" than to see how awesome she really is.
That's not to say that Albertalli made Molly into some romance-novel model of a plus-size perfection. Molly's not rocking any big-and-beautiful or fat-acceptance labels; she's just not constantly trying to diet or obsessed with her weight. And the story (a companion to Albertalli's Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) is about much more than Molly's weight or even her romantic prospects. It's also about how sisterhood and best friendship can change when one or the other person is in love; how loyalties and priorities shift when romance blooms and your inner circle grows; and how sisters sometimes have to grow apart, ever so slightly, to grow up. But, there is romance. For those worried that this is another intolerable romance, never fear. There's only one real and true viable option for Molly, and he's wonderful. He and Molly talk with an ease that should be a lesson for all young readers. Love is about attraction, yes, but that attraction can start with friendship and a sense of being seen and known -- not simply desired, although there's that, too. And when it all comes together, it's magical.