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Monday, June 12, 2017

YA Review: The Upside of Unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Published: April 11th, 2017 by Balzer & Bray
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 336 plus an author's note.
Part of a series? It's technically a companion to Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but you don't have to read that to read this one. I didn't!
Got via: The library, but I really want a copy to own now.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because 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. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And 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 an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

Review: I was so nervous to read this because I was scared that I wasn't going to like it. I'm fat. Like visibly fat, no straight sized clothes, no one would ever call me "chubby" fat. Books with fat characters are few and far between, and good ones are even more rare. So many books about fatness are all about weight loss and dieting, and I think we get by now that I don't like that, to put it incredibly mildly.

This is not that. This is not remotely that. This is a story about a fat girl being fat and happy and amazing. It is a balm for my cynical, tired soul. It's so beautiful and I'm so glad I read it.

Plot Talk: This is one of those plots that sounds really bad when you describe it, but is perfect for the book. It's set in summer, which I love, and there aren't really big dramatics or anything like that. It's so much more about character growth and relationships. And that's just right.

Characters: Molly is fat, Jewish, and has anxiety that she takes medication for. Her experiences as so incredibly relateable. Her voice is probably my favourite thing ever. It's very modern, and I really enjoyed that. She has experiences and feelings and fears that are unique to the experience of someone fat. Relateable to others still, yes, absolutely, uniquely a fat experience. I read this, and I see so much of myself as a teen in Molly.

I also adored the supporting cast. It's so diverse, including tons of queer characters, and characters of colour, and more Jewish characters, and I loved how supportive the supporting cast was. Almost all of Molly's friends and family love Molly just the way she is, and there's no concern trolling or "health" worries besides for one character who is very much called out as being wrong. It's so wonderful to see a book where characters aren't fatphobic and it's not okay to be like that.

And the characters in general are one of the strongest elements of the book, along with their relationships. A lot of the book is about how Molly and Cassie are learning how their relationship as sisters will grow and change as they get older and experience new things, and it's imperfect and hard and I adored it.

PG-13 stuff: It's an older YA, and includes some older elements. Some swearing if you care about that, some underage drinking that is handled incredibly well without being overly moralizing, some really good talk about sex and what it means to different characters, that kind of thing. There is some fatphobia, obviously, but it's pretty standard for, you know, being fat. Nothing I found upsetting personally.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I'm going to address a thing - this is a book where a fat girl get a boyfriend and at the same time/somewhat because of that, gets more confident with herself. People have said things about this, and I think some people who have been saying things shouldn't be talking about them, for several reasons. One, if that's a conversation that should happen, thin people do not get a vote. Two, every single issue Molly has is not magically cured by getting a boyfriend. She's just happy for a few days. Fat girls are allowed to be happy. I almost guarantee you that the world will not stop being fatphobic because one girl got a boyfriend. Also, realizing that people find you attractive and everyone doesn't think your body is horrible, is actually a confidence booster. That is a thing.

Three, there are not enough fat books in YA to make this a trend (the adult romance genre is a different story). If you are a thin ally, and you really truly care about this trope being problematic, demand more books with fat characters. This book cannot be literally everything. And, four, fat girls are allowed to want romance and there absolutely are not depictions of romantic media with fat girls being loved and desired. People are allowed to want to read that. How many love triangles and romances are there with thin girls getting confident when they get a boyfriend? When it's the same number, then we'll talk, okay? And I'm acearo. I don't really want romantic relationships at all, but I still understood exactly how Molly felt (minus the frequent crushes - I never really did that).

If it's not your thing, okay, whatever. Strokes and folks and all. But let's be realistic here instead of acting like we're swimming in books like this.

Now my actual complaints instead of just anger at people on the internet - this won't represent everyone. It can't, obviously, but Molly does represent a group that gets a little more in general, though obviously not a lot. While her size is never given, the context clues kind of hint that she's a smaller fat girl. I think people who are like, size 28 and up, might feel left out by this.

Molly is also straight, cisgender, and allo, and she identifies as white (I point this out in this way because she says it, and I know some Jewish people don't so much? So, her words, not mine). Her representation obviously can't represent everyone, but it's also true that small fat white cis allo straight girls get more representation than other people who aren't those things.

Again, solution to this? More fat books.

I also wish there had been an asexual character, honestly. There's like everything else, and to be fair, asexuality is brought up once, but it's still kind of a bummer. Also, an aromantic character would have balanced things out a lot with a fairly romance-heavy plot. And it would have been nice if Molly wasn't a fat unicorn - this is something I want more of in books, more than just one fat character. It would be good for her, too.

Cover comments: Um. I don't actually love this cover, or honestly like it much. This trend of mostly word covers is not my favourite. It just doesn't work for me. I'm very much alone in this, though, I realize. I just feel like so many of them look so similar. Case in point:

But I'm sure other people like them, or they wouldn't be so popular. It's just one of those things that bugs me.

Conclusion: I got a little angry there (whoops) but I really do adore this book. I loved how creative and crafty Molly was, and how relateable the entire book was, and how many problematic things are called out using that language. I want so many more books like this with amazing fat characters doing all kinds of amazing things. I'm giving this one four and a half roses despite it not being perfect because I felt it so strongly, and I want to support it because I want more books like this.

Other notes:

- Seriously, happy queer adults are amazing. Also, an adult married bisexual character who is still labelled bisexual.

- Cassie and Molly are both Sagittariuses like me :D

- I honestly do not want to give this back to the library. I'm a little sad.

- Books that mention chub rub. Why are there not more of these??

- Molly's mom nurses in this, and the book is really cool about that. I thought it was neat. It's nice to see YA talking about breasts in non-sexual or body-issue ways.

Okay, I could keep going, but that's probably quite enough.

Peace and cookies,

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