(Goodreads summary here.)
I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I started this book. I haven’t read anything else by Becky Albertalli (I know, how have I not read Simon vs. yet!?), but I do know that all of her books prevalently feature LGBTQ+ characters, which was the main reason I wanted to pick up this book.
You know how people say that YA contemporary romances are best in the summer? Well, I wasn’t sure I believed that until I read this one. Granted, I’m not huge on contemporaries in general, especially romances, but I finally felt like I understood where people are coming from about this. It was just fun to read, which isn’t something I find myself thinking very often when reading. It was light, it was cute, and yet I still feel like I got something out of it, which is what you really want to feel when you finish a book.
I’ll admit that I was a little apprehensive when I started this. After reading the summary, I was worried that, at best, I wouldn’t be able to connect with the characters, Molly especially, and that, at worst, I’d feel alienated by it. I am more than happy to report that I felt neither of those things. Because Molly’s constant crushes are central to the story and I’m someone who doesn’t do the whole crush thing very often, I wasn’t sure how I would relate to her, if I could at all. However, Molly is such a typical teenager that I shouldn’t have been worried. Now, I know that sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not. Molly has all the same fears about relationships and friendships and life in general that I had when I was her age (a whole 3 years ago!), and that just shows that Albertalli has a phenomenal understanding of what it’s like to be an adolescent. I may not have had 27 crushes in my life, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been worried that I’m somehow behind my peers on that front. Seeing someone who is the complete opposite of me in terms of their love life and still has those fears really helped put me at ease.
Speaking of Molly’s love life, I was really pleasantly surprised at how … unannoyed I was at the treatment of her crushes. I think I went into the book with this conception that girls who are boy crazy are inherently frustrating, but this book helped prove me wrong. I shouldn’t have judged Molly for her fixation on guys, and I shouldn’t judge people like that in my real life, either. I always love finishing a book and questioning my worldview, so this one gets major points for teaching me to be more understanding and less judgmental.
I also had the fun surprise of having this book take place in my hometown. I remember reading the first scene and going, “Oh, they’re at the 9:30 Club. There must be another one in California or New York that I don’t know about” (because obviously all YA contemporaries take place in CA or NY). Then I realized they were actually in DC, and my thoughts became, “Cool, so I’ll know a couple of places they talk about,” thinking that’s where the book was set. I almost didn’t believe it when they ended up in Takoma Park. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel that takes place in my city, let alone one that really nails both the geography and the culture. It’s so much fun to be able to picture all the places the characters go to on a personal level, rather than just saying, “Right, sure, the Empire State Building” or “Look, the Eiffel Tower.” For instance, I can tell you that the pottery painting place Olivia works at is a Color-Me-Mine that I’ve been to several times before and that, unfortunately, the FroZen Yo that Mina, Cassie, and Molly go to no longer stands (RIP my favorite junk food place). The funniest thing, though, is that I was downtown and needed groceries and was about to suck it up and break the bank by going to Whole Foods when I remembered the Giant scene and realized I could go to that one. I know these are just small things, but it makes the book so much more personal for me.
Surprisingly, I really like the way the romance pans out in this book. A lot of the time, I get frustrated with contemporaries because they’re so predictable, but, while a lot was definitely predictable, it wasn’t as smooth sailing as I thought it was going to be. It was really refreshing to see a romance that ends the way you expect it to but takes an unexpected route to get there. Also, I really liked both Will and Reid. Usually with love triangle plots (although this has a very weak love triangle which makes it way more bearable), I have a strong preference for one person over the other. That wasn’t the case with this one. I definitely liked Reid more than Will, but it wasn’t because I disliked Will; I just liked Reid more. It was also nice to see Will not become some sort of contemporary villain as a way to get around the love triangle. Sure, it’s not like there’s some huge decision Molly has to make between the two because they’re both in love with her, but the issue is still handled with grace and in a way that’s believable.
My only problems with this book came at the very end. I thought that pacing sped up way too much, way too fast at the end. I would’ve liked to see certain things unfold and develop just a little bit more before the story ended. Also, a lot of aspects seem to wrap up in a neat little bow with no issues, which I can’t really accept. I know it’s meant to be a feel-good novel, but it’s also supposed to be realistic, and so there were some things I just didn’t buy. The big thing with this was the moment at the very end with Grandma Betty. All of a sudden, she switches from being a fat-shaming asshole into a misunderstood softie, which I didn’t really like. A lot of what I didn’t like about it has to do with how quickly it happened and was taken care of, but some of it feels forced to me, like Albertalli couldn’t stand to make Betty a villain. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for becoming more accepting of appearances, but the reality is that not everyone is going to be accepting, especially family. It sucks, but sometimes that’s just how it is, and I wish Albertalli could have left some problems left unconfronted.
I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. Although I was a little worried about how it would go when I started it, The Upside of Unrequited was full of heartfelt moments between friends and siblings that I loved. While I don’t think I’ve been converted to a YA contemporary romance lover, I definitely feel like I’ve opened up to them thanks to this book.
What’s your favorite YA contemporary novel? Any recommendations for someone who isn’t the biggest fan of the genre, but is willing to give it a try? What Becky Albertalli novel should I read next?