The Upside of Unrequited

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Upside of Unrequited Book Poster Image
A sweet and funny story about finally finding first love.

Parents say

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 4 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The book will teach teen readers about the nuances of having same-sex parents; what it's like to be a teenager in the Washington, D.C., area (the book name-checks various clubs, eateries, and hangouts for young D.C.'ers); and the challenges of teens who are labeled "fat."

Positive Messages

It's important to have strong family and friends to support and encourage you. No matter your clothing size, you are worthy of love. The idea that bigger girls or guys aren't desirable is exposed as a lie. Attraction, as Cassie points out, is singular/individual, and no one should think they can't find love. The book is openly pro-marriage equality; Molly and Cassie's moms get married.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Molly is smart, artistic, and kind. She's always willing to help others. Reid is the same. He's intelligent, generous, and attentive. Cassie is outspoken and protective. The two moms are good listeners, fair disciplinarians, and observant, involved moms. Olivia and Abby are good best friends who listen and want the best for Molly and Cassie.

Violence

A character aggressively tells a random guy he's "with" Molly so the guy will back off. Molly responds to someone telling her that she's "gorgeous for a big girl" by telling him, "[F]--k you." A guy reveals Reid used to be called "Husky Pants Reid" when they were younger.

Sex

A couple of scenes of making out and passionate kissing. Frank discussions about virginity, orgasms, birth control, sexual orientation, a spectrum of experience (some characters have never kissed someone, while others have had sex).

Language

Parent-approved use of strong language (one of the moms curses quite colorfully): "f--k," "d--k," "fat bitch," "s--t," "a--hole," and several compound curse words.

Consumerism

Modcloth, Pinterest, Lexus, iPhone, Frozenyo, Skype, Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, various bands/musical acts/venues in and around Washington, D.C., Giant supermarket, Betty Crocker, Cadbury Easter eggs.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Realistic portrayal of underage drinking at house parties, hangouts, with mostly beer, vodka, and lemonade with peach schnapps. Teens get sick from overindulging. Adults drink at wedding reception.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Upside of Unrequited is award-winning, best-selling author Becky Albertalli's sophomore novel, a contemporary romance that's a companion to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. The story follows Molly Peskin-Suso and to a lesser extent her twin sister, Cassie, best friends and cousins of Abby Suso, a supporting character in Simon. Molly has a "lovely face" but is fat, and while she doesn't have any interest in losing weight, she's worried she'll never find love. Like Albertalli's previous book, The Upside of Unrequited is extremely diverse, featuring LGBTQ characters and various racial, ethnic, and religious characters. Teens and adults curse (sometimes rather colorfully) in a believable way (some characters much more than others). The high schoolers (and occasionally the teens and their parents) also realistically discuss sexuality and identity, from experience (or lack thereof) to what qualifies as sex and losing virginity to birth control to  whether fat or nerdy teens are still desirable (spoiler alert: The answer is yes!). There's plenty to unpack and discuss if parents read this along with their teen, particularly about the individual experience of falling in love and why there's no timeline for when is the right time to discover first love.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byGonger December 29, 2017

Book review

It was a very good book! There was a lot of cursing, sometimes very bad, and I think parents should know that. I am only 12 years old and I wasn’t prepared for... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byUpbunny4000 November 5, 2017

AMAZING!

This book blew me away, it was funny, sweet and so much more. Positive role models. Talk about body image and about homosexuality in a positive light. AMAZING... Continue reading

What's the story?

Set in the progressive Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED chronicles the summer story of 17-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso, who has had 26 unrequited crushes. A self-proclaimed "prolific crusher," Molly considers herself the opposite of her fraternal twin sister, Cassie: Whereas Cassie is blond, blue-eyed, and slender, Molly is brown-haired, brown-eyed, and fat. And while young lesbian Cassie has hooked up with plenty of girls, Molly has never even kissed any of the 26 guys she's crushed on. Things begin to change when Molly finds herself with two possible suitors: "hipster Will," a handsome ginger who's best friends with Cassie's new girlfriend, and big-and-tall "Middle-earth Reid," who works with Molly in his parents' eclectic home goods store. But while Molly realizes Will is objectively "hotter," she finds herself increasingly attracted to geeky and adorkable Reid.

Is it any good?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way sex and relationships are described in The Upside of Unrequited.

  • How are body image and acceptance handled in the story? Why does Molly worry no one will find her desirable?

  • How does Albertalli use Washington, D.C., and its suburbs to create a particular setting for Molly and Cassie's life?

  • Talk about underage drinking and how it's portrayed in the book. Is it realistic? What consequences, if any, do the characters face for their unsupervised alcohol consumption?

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