While Molly Pescan-Suso has experienced 26 crushes in her life, she’s rarely acted on them. Entering the summer before her senior year, Molly yearns to find the right person to share a first kiss with and possibly take things from being a crush to actually being her significant other.
Now, Molly has two possible new crushes on her radar — the popular guy Wil and the fantasy t-shirt wearing, Reed. Which one, if either, will Molly chose makes up most of the drama and teen angst of The Upside of Unrequited.
Becky Albertalli caught my attention last year with the funny, entertaining and thought-provoking Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And while Simon has an Easter egg cameo in this book, overall Upside ranks as one of the more disappointing stories I’ve read lately. Much of my frustration with the novel comes from its first-person narrator, Molly. Albertalli tries her best to make Molly self-deprecating about her lack of romantic experience, chalking a lot of it up to a lack of confidence because of her body type. Molly’s own self-image isn’t necessarily the most positive as she repeatedly refuses to believe that anyone else would find her attractive, despite there being signs from that two potential crushes might be interested in more than just being an unrequited object of her affection.
I get what Albertalli is trying to do with Molly and giving us the perspective of someone who is an outsider, looking in at what the “popular” kids (including her own twin sister) are doing. But it felt like Unrequited was getting a bit redundant and hitting all the expected romantic comedy touchstones for Molly instead of giving us an authentic journey for her. In the end, it feels only like Molly comes out of her shell because a boy likes her and not because she realizes that she has inherent worth as a person regardless of her external appearance.
Albertalli fills Upside with a diverse group of characters, many of whom feel one-dimensional. Too many of them feel like they’re summed up by one or two characteristics instead of being fully realized characters.
It all adds up to a disappointing sophomore effort by Albertalli. Maybe my expectations were too high for this one. But I can’t help but feel like this one had potential that it never quite lived up to.
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