Read an excerpt from The Upside of Unrequited, Becky Albertalli’s adorable and hilarious follow-up to last year’s 💕 beloved Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda (which is soon to be a movie btw.)
In this delightful YA novel, we meet Molly Peskin-Suso, expert on all things unrequited love. And she is an expert, because she’s lived through it twenty-six times. TWENTY-SIX UNREQUITED CRUSHES. Celebrity, friends’ siblings, you name it. Seriously Molly… we feel ya. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly just can’t stomach the idea of rejection.
Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick (total crush material) and the girls are determined to get Molly her first kiss. Will he be crush #27? Will he be kiss #1?! Keep scrolling to read the first two chapters of The Upside of Unrequited!
I’m on the toilet at the 9:30 Club, and I’m wondering how mermaids pee.
This isn’t random. There’s a mermaid Barbie attached to the door of the bathroom here. Which is a pretty odd choice for a bathroom mascot. If that’s even a thing. Bathroom mascots.
But the door opens, letting in a burst of music from the club. This is not a bathroom you can enter discreetly. A stall door clicks shut just as I’m opening mine. I step out.
There are mirrors above all the sinks. I suck in my cheeks so it looks like I have cheekbones. And it’s quite a transformation. Sometimes I have the idea that I could maintain this. I could spend the rest of my life gently biting the inside of my cheeks. Except for the fact that it makes my lips look weird. Also, biting your cheeks definitely gets in the way of talking, and that’s a little hardcore, even for me. Even for cheekbones.
“Shit.” There’s a voice from the stall, low and sort of husky. “Hey, can you hand me some toilet paper?”
She’s talking to me. It takes me a moment to realize that. “Oh! Sure.”
I grab a wad of it to pass under the girl’s door, and her hand brushes mine as she takes it. “Okay, you just saved my life.”
I saved a life. Right here in the bathroom of the 9:30 Club.
She flushes, and steps out of the stall, and the first thing I notice is her shirt: red cotton, with an awesomely artistic rendering of the letters G and J. I actually don’t think most people would recognize them as letters.
But I do. “That’s a Georgie James shirt.”
The girl raises her eyebrows, smiling. “You know Georgie James?”
“Yeah.” I smile back.
Georgie James. They were a local DC band, but they broke up years ago. You never really expect to meet anyone our age who’s heard of them, but my sister used to be obsessed.
The girl shakes her head. “That is awesome.”
“It is the awesomest,” I say, and the girl laughs—one of those quiet laughs that bubbles up from your throat. Then I really look at her. And oh.
She’s short and slender and Asian, and her hair is such a dark shade of purple, it’s almost not purple. Thick-framed glasses. And there’s something about the shape of her lips. She has very well-defined lips.
Cassie would definitely be into her. The glasses, especially. And the Georgie James shirt.
“Anyway, thanks for saving my butt. Literally.” She shakes her head. “Okay, not my butt.”
I giggle. “It’s okay.”
“Thanks for saving my labia.”
I shrug and smile back at her. There’s just something about this kind of moment—this tiny thread connecting me to a total stranger. It’s the kind of thing that makes the universe feel smaller. I really love that.
I drift back into the club, letting the music settle around me. It’s a local band I’ve never heard of, but the floor is packed. People seem to like how loud the drums are. I’m surrounded by dancing, moving bodies and dimly lit faces, heads tilted up at the stage. Suddenly, everything starts to feel huge and impossible again. I think it’s because there are so many couples, laughing and leaning and earnestly making out.
There’s this feeling I get when I watch people kiss. I become a different form of matter. Like they’re water, and I’m an ice cube. Like I’m the most alone person in the entire world.
“Molly!” shouts Cassie, waving her hands. She and Olivia are near the speakers, and Olivia is actually wincing. She’s not exactly a 9:30 Club kind of girl. I’m not sure I am, either, but Cassie can be pretty persuasive.
I should put this out there: my twin sister and I are nothing alike.
We don’t even look alike. We’re both white, and we’re both sort of medium height. But in every other way, we’re opposites. Cassie’s blond, green-eyed, and willowy. I’m not any of those things. I’m brown-haired and brown-eyed and nowhere close to willowy.
“I met your dream girl,” I tell Cassie immediately.
“I made a friend in the bathroom, and she’s really cute, and I think you guys should fall in love and get married and have babies.”
Cassie does her raise and wrinkle eyebrow thing. She’s one of those blond girls with brown eyebrows, and it’s hard to explain how perfectly it works on her. “How does that happen?”
“How does love happen?”
“No, how do you make friends in a bathroom?”
“Cass. You’re missing the point. This is the dream girl.”
“Wait a minute.” Cassie flicks my arm. “Is this a Molly crush? Is this crush number twenty-seven?”
“What? No.” I blush.
“Oh my God. Your first girl crush. I’m so proud.”
“We’re at twenty-seven already?” Olivia asks. Which I’m choosing to interpret as her being impressed with me. So, I’m a prolific crusher. That’s not a bad thing. Not that this is a Molly crush.
I shake my head and cover my eyes. I feel a little helium-brained. Maybe this is what it’s like to be drunk. My cousin Abby told me being drunk feels like you’re floating. I wonder if it’s possible to get drunk without drinking.
“Hey.” Cassie peels my hands away from my face. “You know it’s my job to mess with you.”
But before I can reply, Olivia holds up her phone. “Hey, it’s eleven forty-five,” she says. “Should we be heading to the Metro?”
“Oh!” I say.
The Metro closes at midnight. Also, I’m starting work tomorrow. I have an actual summer job. Which means I should probably get at least a little bit of sleep, so I don’t pass out at the register. I hear that’s not professional.
We weave toward the exit, and it’s honestly a relief to step outside. It’s cool for June, and the air feels nice against my legs. I’m wearing this cotton dress that was plain black when I got it, but I sewed on a doily lace Peter Pan collar and some lace around the bottom. It’s completely improved.
Cassie and Olivia both text as they walk, and they don’t even trip over the curb. I admire that. I hang back a little, just watching them. They fit here, on U Street. Cassie’s got this perfect, messy ponytail, and she’s dressed like she threw on the first thing to fall out of her closet. Which is probably accurate, but it works on her. More than works. She has this way of making everyone else look overdressed. And Olivia is tall, with this fresh-scrubbed kind of prettiness—except she has a nose stud and blue-streaked hair that make you look at her twice. And I guess she’s considered chubby, but not as much as I am.
I do wonder, sometimes, what people think when they see me.
It’s strange how you can sometimes still feel self-conscious around people you’ve known your whole life. Literally. We’ve known Olivia since our moms were in La Leche League together. And for seventeen years, it’s been the four of us: Cassie, Olivia, me, and my cousin Abby. Except Abby moved to Georgia last summer. And ever since, Cassie’s been dragging Olivia and me to the stuff she used to do with Abby—open mic nights and concerts and wandering down H Street.
A year ago, Olivia and I would have been tucked up on her living room couch, watching Steven Universe with Titania, her schnauzer-beagle mix. Instead, I’m surrounded by people who are infinitely cooler than me. Everyone on U Street is doing one of three things right now: laughing, smoking, or making out.
I turn toward the Metro pole, and right away, I see the dream girl.
“Cass, it’s her!” I pull on Cassie’s tank top. “In the red. Look.”
The girl leans forward, digging through her purse. There are these two hipster white guys hovering near her, both absorbed in their phones: a redhead wearing skinny jeans, and a dark-haired one with dramatic bangs.
“But you never explained why she’s Cassie’s dream girl,” Olivia says. The girl looks up from her purse, and Olivia turns away quickly.
But she sees me. The dream girl waves, and I wave back.
“Oh. She’s cute,” Cassie whispers.
“I told you.” I grin.
“She’s walking over here.”
And she is. The dream girl is walking toward us, smiling. So now, Cassie’s smiling. She’s staring at the ground, but I can tell from her cheeks.
“Hi again,” says the girl.
I smile. “Hi.”
This girl must seriously hate drip-drying.
“I don’t think I even introduced myself,” she says. “I’m Mina.”
“Your shirt,” Cassie says, “is the most perfect thing I have ever seen in my entire life. I’m just.” She shakes her head.
Mina laughs. “Thank you.”
“I’m Cassie, by the way. And I’ve never met anyone who’s heard of Georgie James.”
Okay, that’s bullshit. I’m standing right here.
“You know what’s funny,” Mina starts to say—but then the dramatic bangs boy pokes her arm.
“Eenie Meenie, let’s go.” He looks up, catching my eye over Cassie’s shoulder. “Hi. Nice to meet you guys, but we have to catch this train.”
“Oh shit,” says Mina. “Okay. Well—”
“So do we,” Cassie says quickly. And somehow it happens: our groups merge. Cassie and Mina fall into step beside each other, and Olivia’s right behind them, in her own world, texting. I step onto the escalator and lean into the handrail, trying not to look like a sheep that lost its herd. Molly Peskin-Suso: disoriented introvert, alone in the wild.
Until I look up and realize: I’m not actually alone. The hipster boys are a step below me on the escalator. I accidentally lock eyes with the redhead, who asks, “Why do you look familiar?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I’m Will.”
“Like the drug,” says Bangs.
Like the drug. Like I’m a person you would associate with drugs.
The train pulls into the station almost as soon as we step off the escalator, and we have to sprint to catch it. I slide into a seat, leaving room for Cassie, but she plops down next to Mina.
Olivia settles into the seat beside me instead. And then moments later, Mina’s hipster boys drift toward us. Bangs is reading something on his phone, but the red-haired guy grips the pole and smiles down at us.
I look up at him. “Will, right?”
Okay. So he’s cute. He’s a tiny bit really extremely cute.
“Good memory!” he says. And then Olivia introduces herself, and there’s this weird, hanging pause. I wish I were the kind of person who knew how to fill a silence.
I’m not. Olivia’s definitely not.
“Oh, and this is Max,” Will says, after a moment.
Bangs glances up from his phone with a tiny smile. “What’s up?”
And ugh—he’s cute, too. Except no: I’d actually describe him as hot. He’s one of those guys who’s so hot, he’s not even cute. But he should rein in the bangs.
“So, who does Molly look like?” Will asks, staring me down. “Sorry, but it’s driving me crazy.”
Max appraises me, pressing his lips together. “No idea.”
“She seriously looks like someone.”
Actually, I get this a lot. I think I must have one of those stupidly generic faces. Weirdly, three entirely unrelated people have told me I look like this particular teen actress from the seventies, though I’m sort of a fat version of her. And strangers are always telling me I look like their cousin or someone from their summer camp. It freaks me out just a little bit. Like, there’s this part of me that wonders whether I actually am related to all these cousins and camp friends.
Here’s the part where I should probably mention that Cassie and I are sperm donor babies. So that’s a thing in my life: that tiny niggling idea that everyone I meet might actually be my half sibling.
“I’m just going to gawk at you until I figure it out,” Will says.
Across the aisle, Cassie snorts—and I suddenly realize she and Mina are watching us. They look extremely entertained.
Heat rises in my cheeks. “Um, okay,” I say, blinking.
The train slows to a stop, and Olivia stands. “Well, here’s Chinatown.”
“That’s us, too,” Will says. I guess that’s not surprising—half the world gets off here to transfer. The doors spring open, and Cassie and Mina trail behind us as we step onto the platform. Cassie’s typing something into her phone.
“Where are you guys headed?” Will asks, still staring a little too hard at my face.
“Takoma Park. Red Line.”
“Oh, okay. Opposite direction. We’re Bethesda,” he says. “So, I guess this is good-bye.”
I never really know the protocol for this kind of situation. It’s like when you’re in line at a store, and a grandma starts telling you all about her grandchildren or her arthritis, and you smile and nod along. But then it’s your turn to check out, so you’re just like okay, well, good-bye forever.
Which is kind of tragic, if you really think about it.
There’s a little computer sign that says how long you have until each train gets in. Red Line to Glenmont arrives in ten minutes. That’s us. But the Red Line train to Shady Grove is basically pulling in now. Will and Max and Mina leap up the escalator to catch it.
By the time we reach our platform, their train has already left the station.
So, that’s it.
Except Cassie has Mina’s number. It shouldn’t surprise me, since Cassie’s great at getting girls’ numbers. Sometimes she gets a number and immediately forgets about it. Or she hooks up with a girl once and then loses the number on purpose. Cassie can be kind of ruthless.
Olivia nudges me. “That Will guy likes you.”
“That’s a thing. You pretend to recognize someone as an excuse to talk to them.”
“According to who?”
“The internet.” She gives a very serious nod. Olivia is a very serious person in general. I honestly think there are two kinds of quiet people. There’s the kind like me, who are secretly full of storms and spinning gears. And then there’s the kind like Olivia, who is the actual personification of an ocean on a sunny day. I don’t mean that she’s simple. There’s just something peaceful about her. There always has been. She likes dragons and stargazing and those calendars with paintings of faeries on them. And she’s been dating the same guy since we were thirteen. Evan Schulmeister. She met him at summer camp.
“Hey, guess what.” Cassie pops up over the back of the seat in front of me. “Your boy is single.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your ginger. Mr. Peach Butt Hipster Pants. He’s single and ready to mingle.” She waves her phone at me. “Mina confirmed it.”
She grins. “You’re welcome. Mina’s going to get the ball rolling.”
I freeze. “What?”
“You think he’s cute, right?”
I don’t respond. I just gape at her, and Olivia giggles.
“Because you looked pretty happy to be talking to him.” Cassie pokes my arm. “Look. I know your crush face.”
“I don’t have a crush face!”
Holy shit. Do I have a crush face? Does the entire world know every time I think a guy is cute?
My phone buzzes in my pocket, startling me. A text from Abby. Molly!!! Tell me about the hot redhead guy!
“Are you kidding me?” I show Cassie the phone. “You told Abby?”
I feel sick. I might actually throw up. Preferably all over Cassie, who’s now texting again. Probably about me. And my supposed giant crush on some guy I talked to for five minutes. Cassie always thinks she knows me better than I know myself.
I mean, yes. Will is pretty fucking cute.
Olivia gives me this tiny smile. “You look so horrified right now, Molly.”
I shrug wordlessly.
“I thought you wanted a boyfriend.”
“Exactly,” Cassie interjects, turning back to us suddenly. “Like, this whole Molly thing with the secret crushes that go nowhere. I’m over it.”
“Oh, you’re over it?” My throat tightens. “Uh, I’m sorry boys don’t like me.”
“That is such bullshit, Molly. You don’t even talk to them.”
Here we go.
Cassie’s soapbox: the fact that I’ve had twenty-six crushes and exactly zero kisses. Apparently, it’s because I need to woman up. If I like a guy, I’m supposed to tell him. Maybe in Cassie’s world, you can do that and have it end in making out. But I’m not so sure it works that way for fat girls.
I don’t know. I just like to be careful about this stuff.
Cassie leans over the seat, toward me, and her expression softens. “Look. I’m not going to embarrass you. You trust me, right?”
“Then let’s do this. I’m going to get you a boyfriend.”
I push my bangs out of my face. “Um. I don’t think it’s that easy.” I hit her with this particular facial expression of mine, known to my moms as the Molly Face. It involves eyebrows and a certain twist of the mouth, and it conveys infinite, everlasting skepticism.
“I’m telling you. It is.”
But it’s not. I don’t think she gets it. There’s a reason I’ve had twenty-six crushes and no boyfriends. I don’t entirely understand how anyone gets a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person at the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances. It’s almost unfathomable that it happens as often as it does.
I don’t know why my heart is beating so quickly.
The train pulls into Takoma, and Cassie stands abruptly. “And I need to know if Mina’s queer.”
“Aww,” I say. “Look who has a crush face now.”
“Why don’t you just ask her?” Olivia says.
“Yeah, no.” Cassie shakes her head. “Okay, let’s see if she’s on Facebook.” She types while she walks. “How do you even search for someone?”
“Are you kidding?” I ask.
This is a fundamental difference between us. I was basically born knowing how to casually stalk people on social media. But I guess Cassie’s more the kind of person who gets casually stalked.
“Want me to ask Will, since he’s apparently my future boyfriend?”
“Hush.” She’s still staring at her phone.
I mean, I’m sure it’s a total coincidence that Cassie wants to turn this particular boy into my boyfriend. I bet it has nothing to do with him being friends with the dream girl.
Cassie gets off the escalator with a little hop, and Olivia and I follow her through the turnstiles. There’s a couple making out against a SmarTrip machine. Which is definitely not how you’re supposed to use SmarTrip machines. I look away quickly.
“Are you still texting Mina?” I ask.
She smiles. “I’m not telling you.”
But she will. No question. Because once you’ve shared a uterus, there’s no such thing as a secret.
Of course, I sleep terribly. I’m up for hours, staring at the ceiling.
I keep remembering little moments from tonight. It’s like my brain won’t stop spinning. Will squinting at my face, trying to place it. Olivia’s blue-streaked hair, extra bright beneath the fluorescent lights of the Metro. And the tiny, secret smile on Cassie’s face every time her phone buzzed.
Certain nights have this kind of electricity. Certain nights carry you to a different place from where you started. I think tonight was one of the special ones—but I can’t pinpoint why.
Which is strange.
I drift off to sleep, finally—and it feels like only seconds have passed when my phone buzzes with a text.
Are you up? Smiley face. It’s Cassie.
There’s this horrible taste in my mouth, and my eyes feel sore and crusty. I guess it’s fitting. I managed to get drunk last night on absolutely no alcohol. Now I have a nonalcoholic hangover.
I stare at the screen.
My phone buzzes again. MOLLY, WAKE UP!!! IT’S YOUR FIRST DAY OF WORK!!!!
I write back: I’m coming!
I add a sleepy-face emoji.
She sends back this horrible wide-awake emoji with giant eyes.
I send a frowny face back. My head feels heavy on my pillow, and I think I weigh a million pounds. But I force myself out of bed and pull on this ruffled dress from ModCloth, with leggings. And I take my pill. I’ve been on Zoloft for four years. I used to get panic attacks in the middle school cafeteria.
Anyway, when I step into the hallway, the air smells like butter and bacon. We are definitely the kind of Jews who eat bacon.
“Is that the young professional?” asks Patty.
Patty is one of my moms. She pops out from the kitchen, wearing an oversized batik tunic. “Here, bring these to the table.” She hands me a plate stacked high with pancakes.
“Okay . . .”
“You look kind of out of it, sweetie. You all right?”
“Yeah, I’m . . .” I look at the pancakes. “What are these supposed to be?”
“Hearts?” she says. There’s flour on her chin.
“I guess they kind of look like penises.”
“And scrotums,” she adds.
“Mom, that’s so appetizing.”
Honestly, it’s not the first time Patty has thrown down the word scrotum in reference to a meal. I may be a little too used to her talking about this stuff. Once she spent an entire drive to the mall explaining to Cassie and me that the so-called “doggie lipstick” was really the dog’s penis coming out of the shaft. She seemed to know a lot of the anatomical details.
I don’t think either Cassie or I will ask about the lipstick again.
“You should let your brother try one,” she says.
I nod. “Xav loves scrotums.”
Patty raises her eyebrows.
She takes the plate back, and I peek into the dining room. Of course everyone’s already awake. Nadine is a teacher, so even in the summer her body is used to waking up “butt-early,” as she calls it. Sometimes she calls it the ass-crack of dawn. And Xavier wakes up butt-early because he’s a butt-early kind of baby.
“Don’t drop that,” Nadine says, giving him the evil eye. Xavier gives me a giant grin from his high chair and says, “Momo,” which means “Molly.”
So, here’s us in a nutshell: Patty used a sperm donor to conceive Cassie and me. Nadine used the same donor two years ago for Xavier. Strangers have a really hard time wrapping their minds around that. There’s this subset of people who like to inform me that Xavier’s my half brother, not my real brother. They’re the same people who tell me Abby’s not really my cousin. Nadine’s not really my mother. I’m pretty sure people wouldn’t question any of this if Nadine, Abby, and Xavier were white.
Needless to say, I hate these people.
Xavier flings a chunk of banana to the floor and starts whimpering.
“Dude, no,” Nadine tells him. “Banana’s gone. You’re SOL.”
“Do you even know what that means?” Cassie asks from across the table.
“I know so much more than you think I do.” Nadine grins. Then Xavier lets out another goat wail, and she leans over to kiss his head. “Hey. Xavor Xav, be cool.”
Xavor Xav, like Flavor Flav. Nadine is just like this.
Patty walks in with a plate of bacon, pressed between paper towels. “Hope you’re ready,” she says to Cassie.
Cassie’s love of bacon is well documented and notorious.
But she leans back, smiling. “I’m actually not hungry.”
“Who are you, and what have you done with Cassie?” Nadine asks, eyes narrowing.
Cassie laughs and shrugs, and I notice she hasn’t touched her food. Not a bite. And it’s a little surprising. Normally, Cassie’s one of those skinny girls who eats like she’s about to go into hibernation.
“I’m serious, Kitty Cat. What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I’m not . . .” She trails off, hands disappearing under the table. She glances downward, quickly.
She’s reading a text.
From Mina. I’m sure of it. Probably scheming about how to get Will to date me. My whole face heats up just thinking about it.
“So, Molly, how are you feeling?” Nadine asks. “Are you nervous? Are you freaking out?”
“About your big day. About entering the world of the working.”
I wrinkle my brow. “You realize this isn’t like a brain surgery residency, right? I’m working in a store.”
“Momomomo!” Xav interjects. “Cacacacaca!”
Cassie gives him the side-eye. “Hey. Stop calling me that.”
“Never stop calling her that,” says Nadine.
Cassie makes a face, and then she slides her foot against mine under the table, lengthwise—toe to heel. Our feet have always been the same size, almost to the millimeter. I guess we grow at the exact same rate.
“Hey, when are you leaving?” Cassie leans forward on her fists, smiling.
“In a few minutes . . . ,” I start to say, but she gives this very meaningful stare. I try again. “Right now?”
“Great! I’ll walk you to work,” she says, standing abruptly, slipping her phone in her back pocket. “Let’s go.”
“I texted with Mina for four hours last night,” she says as soon as we step outside. It tumbles out of her mouth like she’s been bursting to tell me.
I feel Cassie looking at me, and I can tell she wants me to say something. Or ask something. Maybe it’s twin telepathy—I can just feel her excitement. It’s like it has a pulse.
Somehow, I don’t think this is about finding me a boyfriend.
“What did you talk about?” I ask.
“Just, you know . . .” She laughs. “I honestly don’t even know what we talked about. Music. Photography—she does photography. We just talked about everything, really.”
“For four hours.”
“Yup.” She smiles.
“That’s awesome.” I pause. “Did you find out if she likes girls?”
“Molly. I don’t know.”
There’s this edge to her tone, and it throws me. “Okay,” I say softly.
And for a minute, we’re both so quiet I can actually hear tweeting birds.
I should mention that Takoma Park is beautiful. You kind of don’t notice it most of the time, but then it hits you all at once. Like, when it’s eight fifteen on a summer morning, and the sun is soft and filtered through tree branches. And the houses are brightly painted, with porch swings and wind chimes, and front steps lined with flowers.
I think I just want to stare at the flowers. I want to walk up Tulip Avenue, and be hungry and sleepy, and I want Cassie not to be annoyed at me. I guess asking her about Mina was a mistake. Though if she’s going to be prickly about her own love life, it’s pretty messed up that she’s got her hands all over mine.
Except a minute later, she says, “So, we’re meeting Mina at FroZenYo this afternoon to talk strategy.”
“For seducing the ginger. Operation Boyfriend. Operation Molly Makeouts.”
Oh my God. Seriously.
I shake my head. “Okay, well, I have to—”
“Molly, I know you have work. But you get off at three, and we’re meeting her at three thirty. Okay?”
“I don’t want to intrude. I don’t want to vag-block you.”
“Molly.” Cassie laughs. “You can’t vag-block someone in a frozen yogurt shop. A frozen yogurt shop vag-blocks itself.”
“That is true.”
“And seriously.” She looks at me. “I need you there.”
She looks so sincere. “Okay,” I say finally.
“Hell yeah.” Cassie high-fives me. “Oh man. It’s on.”
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