The Modern Contemporary Novel?

  • My Rating: 3.5 stars
  • Published By: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen in 2017
  • Genres: contemporary, lgbt+, romance
  • Diverse? Yes


The Upside of Unrequited follows Molly Peskin-Suso, a 17 year old girl who’s had 26 crushes but never been kissed. In this coming of age story, she deals with her own sense of ostracisation due to her lack of sexual experience. Molly is also coping with the impact of her twin sister getting a new girlfriend, causing a rift in their friendship and her own body image issues.

Is this the future of contemporary novels?

The most striking thing about this book for me, and  what many other reviewers have focussed on is the diversity and “modernness” of the Peskin-Suso household and other supporting characters. Molly is fat and had diagnosed anxiety which she takes medication for. Her sister, Cassie, is lesbian. Cassie’s girlfriend, Mina, is Korean-American and pansexual. Cassie and Molly are sperm donor babies, as is their little brother. They have two mums, one of whom is a poc.

I think the representation of non-traditional family units is definitely something I’d like to see future contemporary novels focussing on. I think authors need to accept the nuclear family full of straight kids is just not the “norm” anymore. Teenagers come in all different shapes, colours and sexualities and I think that should definitely be explored in contemporary novels more. I would have killed for a book like this growing up.

Subverting what we commonly see in contemporary romance ya novels, that is, a white hetero couple – is something I personally would really like to see this genre strive for.

A bit hit and miss in it’s themes

It’s unfortunate this book fell down a little in it’s portrayal of themes and issues. To start positively, there were many discussions about sex, womanhood and lgbt+ relationships that I thought were really, really well done. This novel is fairly mainstream, and yet it discusses the validity of f/f sex even if it’s not “penetrative” and the validity of women who haven’t or choose not to have sex. I think that’s really outstanding, and probably is going to be controversial with many parents. But the reality, in my opinion, is that there ARE teenagers who may be gay reading this books and those sorts of representations and discussions are important. I think this is a big step in making ya FOR young adults. As a bi girl, I wish I had books growing up that told me sex with another girl was natural and not lesser because there was no penis involved.

But on the other hand, this book totally lets down it’s characters and fails to allow them to establish their own agency. I was waiting for Molly to stand up and say it doesn’t matter she’s fat or anxious or never kissed anyone – she’s a complete, beautiful and valuable person regardless and I NEVER got that. What I got instead was her only accepting herself when boyfriend did. I think thats a terrible message to send to young readers, we should all validate ourselves and establish our own agency – women can be confident and proud of themselves without being validated by a man.

I also think that feminism was misrepresented at times, and it was unfortunate it was associated with romance-hating, man bashing women. That is not the feminism I, or many other self-proclaimed feminists subscribe to.

complex relationships 

To bring things back around to the positive, there are so many complex relationships that I think mirrored real relationships so well. Cassie and Molly are problematic and cruel to each other at times, and also each others biggest defenders and fans. I think representing complex familial relationships was a big plus in this book. Sisterly relationships are so often simplified – see Katniss and Primrose – and I think representing them more complexly is definitely a positive.

There is also the Mina/Cassie/Molly issue – Molly feels like she’s drifting from Cassie because Cassie spends so much time with her girlfriend Mina now. This leads to some good discussion about the impact relationships can have on platonic bonds

“and no one warns you about this. No one tells you how hard it is when someone close to you gets in a relationship, because, yay! love! And we’re so happy for them, but there’s this sharp edge to it right? Because yeah, you’re happy for them. But you’ve also lost them”

I really liked this inclusion, myself and probably many others have struggled with how hard it is to lose a friend when they get a new boyfriend/girlfriend and it’s addressed so little in books. YA romance is always so .. yay ! LOVE LOVE LOVE and I think it was nice Unrequited also addressed how it can hurt too. Its important for people to find a balance in their friendships and relationships and Cassie coming to that realisation and making positive steps towards being available for both Mina and Molly was one of my favourite plot points.


Read for the diversity if that interests you. I think the diversity was without a doubt the standout of this book, and it really separated it from other books in it’s genre. The writing is also fun and easy to follow and you quickly become absorbed.

I don’t think this is a perfect book, it has some thematic issues, but I think it’s a great pre-cursor to what ya romance could be, and it really challenges other authors to being writing about and representing a wide array of teenagers rather then just the norm.

4 thoughts on “The Modern Contemporary Novel?

  1. I pretty much had the same thoughts when I was reading this book. Loved the diversity, but I feel like she barely scratched the surface of what she could have explored. I felt like the book just shoved everything in our face and went ‘look diversity!’ and didn’t explain it. Of course that could be Albertalli’s entire point – diversity is normal, we don’t always have to explain every facet of it – but this is a coming-of-age YA – a Bildungsroman – and that is what those types of novels DO. In my review, I talked about the inclusion of a pansexual character – I’m so happy we are finally getting this type of representation, but I only discovered what pansexuality was last year, and I highly doubt (could be wrong) that teens reading the book would know what it means either. One of the people who commented on my review said she had no issues with how the diversity was represented, and then said she didn’t know what pansexuality was … so you just kind of proved my point. There are many occasions where the novel would have benefited from a clearer explanation of certain elements, and that was definitely one of them.
    Also, I found the novel’s plot to be lacking. Nothing happened. I kept waiting and waiting for something to occur … and nothing. Also, you’re totally right about Molly not standing up for herself and only beginning to love herself and grow in her self esteem when she gets a boyfriend. Such a terrible message, and I expected better from Albertalli.
    Great review! 😀


    1. I totally agree, it’s hard because YA Contemporary novels are never really long, but it felt like she had so much great premise and potential that never really went anywhere.
      For me, the inclusion of a pansexual character was really good because I think the thing about it is even if you don’t know what it means, seeing it represented positively and normally is still really good. But I agree it should have been explained more, especially since it’s not hard for there to be a passing line like “pansexuality is not being limited in sexual attraction” you know? But then again, we live in the age of google – if you really care it’s not hard to find out what pansexuality is. But I do think Becky Albertalli could have made more effort here especially since she was writing a novel with such a diverse cast

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked my review and totally agree with your comment. It’s such a shame because this book had such potential but it really didn’t go anywhere. But at least it’s pretty good success might encourage other authors to follow a similarly diverse path

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep that’s it exactly. The book had so much potential and could have been explored much better. You’re right, it didn’t really go anywhere – but yes, I hope that others look at this work and say, ‘Ok, I should start including all of this as well.’ 😀


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