With this second book, author Albertalli assuredly demonstrates that she deserves all the accolades and plaudits from last year’s Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Her writing is assured, snappy, and with an endearing romanticsm that almost borders on magical realism. If the sun shines a bit too brightly and the good are just perhaps a bit too perfect in their crazy unusual lives, the captivating wit of the dialogue and effortless charm neatly sidesteps detractions. And yet, I never got into the Upside of Unrequited; perhaps the best reason I can give is that everything is a bit too much to be realistic or approachable. It’s a case, perhaps, of the volume pegging at 11 rather than a more comfortable 8 or 9. Less is more.
Story: Molly and ‘womb sister’ Cassie live an unconventional life – both the daughters of the same sperm donor and mother (and her wife). While Cassie immediately crushes on the hot new girl Mollie bumps into (in a bathroom, no less), Mollie is more interested in the hot new girl’s interesting friend. But then there’s also the geeky but sweet “Middle Earth map” t-shirted guy at her new job at the furniture store. When you are shy, overweight, and tend to crush easily and pointlessly, it can be a bit much for a girl to handle. How will Mollie and her lovesick sister navigate this new situation?
The first ‘too much’ hit around the 25% mark, when this book’s single-minded obsession with female reproduction organs/parts became a bit much. I don’t mind correct anatomical references – but in nearly every other page? From how Mollie meets her sister’s future crush in the bathroom (“my labia thanks you”) to offhand comments about vaginas, it was just too much too often. And not really necessary for me to enjoy the book. Albertalli is pounding our heads that this is a book about female same-sex relationships and therefore vastly different than her previous book about male same-sex relationships. The funny thing is – it wasn’t needed, I kinda figured that out on my own and read her books for their great stories.
Another reason I couldn’t get into the book is that the dialogue was just a bit too snappy. It felt so unrealistic and forced – a case of overwriting. This isn’t to say it wasn’t clever or amusing because I did smile several times. But I just didn’t believe it and therefore never really got into Mollie or Cassie. Or her parents for that matter (I guess lesbian mothers replace 1990s hippie parents as the crazy but cute parental units in these types of books). Bit it was almost painfully over the top in the indiscreet sowing of witty bon mots.
The love interests were quirky and unique but I kind of wish a Middle Earth t-shirt wearing teen boy love interest was a bit less confident and well-spoken. Heaven knows I love me a Middle Earth obsessed guy; but there is a teasure trove of uncomfortable geekdom that never seemed to be explored here. This may sound odd – but I think the shirt wore him rather than the other way around.
By the 50% mark, I just didn’t get into the story at all. It felt fractured and lacking a strong enough focus on Mollie – she was greatly overshadowed by all that was going on around her. It might have made her denouement at the end that much more special – the quiet girl gets the prize! But there is so much to go through to get there, especially in terms of female genitalia, that it became a slog at most parts and I started skimming.
So is this a bad book? Oh heck no, most will be enchanted by Albertalli’s wonderful characters. If this one didn’t do it for me, I will still eagerly look forward to her next book. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.