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The Upside of Unrequited
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
- Author: Becky Albertalli
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Balzer + Bray
- Publication date: April 11, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 352
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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