by Becky Albertalli
Published 2017 by Balzer & Bray
352 pages. Hardcover
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
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, 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? [Edelweiss]
Becky Albertalli is particularly excellent at writing what I think I’ll refer to as “Laura books.” She writes these wonderfully genuine YA novels that have just the right amount of romance and nerdy references to make me gush. In fact, I find it difficult to write about them without turning into a giddy puddle in my computer chair because I just love them so much. I’m hoping I’ll do a better job writing about her sophomore novel than I did writing about Simon. I’ll admit I was a little nervous going into this one because my love for Simon was intense. If you’re having the same worries, don’t! Upside is a totally different book and it’s just as good.
I think what really makes Albertalli’s books special are her characters. They feel so real, as if they could be your best friend. People have already written Simon fanfiction for goodness sake! I felt particularly connected to Molly because I was Molly in high school in so many ways. She’s quiet, a little awkward, and terribly unsure of herself. I remember that feeling so well! I think everyone feels that way, especially at that age. Albertalli writes that feeling well, though. It’s one thing to read about a character feeling insecure. It’s quite another to feel that insecurity with them as you read. That’s what makes a character authentic. Albertalli does a fantastic job writing every single character that way, even those that play small roles in her books. There are characters that pop in and out of this story. You know a little about them, but nothing substantial. Then, there will be one or two sentences that help you understand that character and their motivations on a much deeper level. That’s some craft!
Family is a huge part of Upside. Molly’s family is really important to her and ever-present throughout the book. She and Cassie have always been extremely close and compliment each other well. Once Mina comes into the picture, Cassie becomes preoccupied with her new relationship. There’s a lot here about the way our relationships with those close to us alter as we grow older. Molly’s parents are a constant presence in this book and thank goodness for that. I always find it ridiculous when YA books rarely mention parents. Parents are a huge part of most teens’ lives, even if they don’t get along. I loved Patty and Nadine. They were so funny and cool. Also, if I ever have children, my sex talk is going to be pretty much exactly like Patty’s. It was perfection.
Another thing I appreciate about Albertalli’s books is that everything is necessary. There’s no fat in her writing; it’s lean. Perhaps this has to do with the character focus in her writing. Her characters are so central to the story. They’re growing up and learning about themselves and life. Everything really does feel important and necessary at that stage in life. It works really well with regard to pacing and flow. It keeps the storytelling fluid. Her books have been quick reads. They’re so difficult to put down. Simon was quick enough that I read it three times in one year, though a lot of that was out of love. I can see myself going back to Upside, too.
One of my favorite things about this book is the representation. There’s so much here! Molly has two loving moms, one of which is black. Oh, intersectionality, it’s so nice to see you! Cassie’s love interest, Mina, is Korean American. Molly herself has her own things she deals with. There’s some great stuff about body image and anxiety. It’s just so nice to read about all of these things in one book. We’re quick to be excited about any kind of diversity in books, but we’re still mostly dealing with one thing at a time in each book. There are still so many books that are about diversity. Those are important books, but I really appreciate books that simply include diverse experiences of all kinds. It feels more authentic and normalizes those experiences for those who may feel othered by them. That’s one of the major things that makes me want to cheer for this book and make sure everyone picks it up.
I’m a huge fan of a dash of romance in my books. I always have been. I love that Albertalli’s books always include those squeetastic (yes, I just made that word up) moments. They take me back to my own high school crushes and even the way I felt when I first became interested in my husband. They just make me smile. It’s also nice to see another lady appreciate adorable, nerdy guys. I married one of those so I totally get the appeal.
I’m clearly a fan of Upside and Becky Albertalli. From the looks of Goodreads, I wasn’t the only one who could barely express their love immediately upon finishing. This book is witty and earnest and it’s the kind of book that rings all my bells. If you enjoy contemporary young adult fiction, you’ll probably love this. I especially recommend it if you like Rainbow Rowell. Albertalli has certainly earned a spot on my favorites authors list.
P.S. All the name dropping of freaking amazing authors in the acknowledgements made me so happy.