What If It’s Us is one of my most highly anticipated books of 2018. Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Upside of Unrequited) and Adam Silvera (More Happy Than Not, They Both Die at the End) have written some of my favorite contemporary books in recent memory. When I heard that they were going to write a book together, I think I actually squealed in excitement.
Their styles, the sort of endings one can expect from each writer, are so different, I had no idea what to expect going into the story. How would their writing balance out with each other? Would I be crying at the end with tears of joy or sorrow?
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Published: 9 October 2019
Category: Young Adult/Contemporary/LGBT/Romance
Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.
Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.
But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?
Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.
Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.
But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?
What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?
What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?
But what if it is?
Rating: 4 Stars
Rep: gay Jewish ADHD MC, gay Puerto Rican MC, near-poverty rep
CW: scene of homophobia, hospital/hospitalization
Spoiler alert, I did end up crying a little bit while reading this book. lol
Arthur was a refreshing perspective to read. He had an optimism that made his point of view fun to read, a relief from some of the more emotionally stressing books I had going at the time. While he might not have wanted to be an intern at his mom’s office, Arthur didn’t become petulant about it. He made friends with two paralegals, positively beamed when experiencing the city and friendship with them.
Ben was the more relatable of the two for me. There were some aspects of his family life, particularly his concerns and some awkwardness about money, that at this stage in my life I felt really connected to.
When Ben and Arthur, after a truly strange meet cute that involved a marching band flash mob, start their dating adventure in the summer of 2018, there was a gamut of cringe and truly wonderful awkward scenes that encapsulate dating experiences.
While this book is a rom-com and has a lot of light moments, that didn’t prevent Becky and Adam from writing scenes including more serious topics. Arthur and Ben both have big THINGS that are their own individual sources of conflict within this book. There are some smaller conflicts, like Arthur being from Georgia and Ben’s ex still being sort-of in the picture, but these THINGS are more than that. For Ben it’s his family’s financial situation and issues he faces as a white passing Puerto Rican person. For Arthur, it’s his family’s stability/structure, the very real possibility of divorce.
Ben talks about the colorism issues he faces a couple of times, once at a college meetup in Central Park when talking to a black student:
Kent bites his lip as he nods. “At least no one follows you around grocery stores like you’re trying to steal something. And I bet no one is asking you if you got into Yale to meet some sort of diversity quota. That actually sucks.”I look away because wow, Kent didn’t swing but it still felt like I got punched. “I’m sorry, I . . .”It’s quiet between us. Having to tell people I’m Puerto Rican is not a problem compared to what Kent faces regularly.
And then again when Arthur says something careless as they’re on a date:
Between you being so white and not speaking Spanish I keep forgetting you’re even Puerto Rican. Your last name always reminds me though.”I freeze with the churro between my teeth. Arthur continues chomping away at his chocolate churro, completely unaware that he’s just nudged me really hard in one of my sore spots. It’s 2018. How are people—even good people—still saying shit like this?
Not only does this, again, point out one of the things that Ben has to contend with, but it showcases that some people that say this kind of thing can be good people and not realize that they’re saying careless, horrible shit.
“Not looking the part of Puerto Rican messed me up. I know I get some privilege points from looking white, but Puerto Ricans don’t come in one shade.”
“And not every Puerto Rican is going to run down the block for churros or speak Spanish. I know you didn’t mean anything bad, but I like you and I want to trust you like me too for being me. And that you’ll get to know me and not just think you know me because of society’s stupidity.”
There are also a lot of times when Ben reflects on his family’s financial status. It really hit home, when he was talking about things like how one meal out, a $30 burger, could be worth several days of groceries at home. That was just one of the moments that made Ben’s situation stand out in contrast to Arthur’s, something that seems like a throwaway moment at a restaurant that is actually a huge deal.
“I can’t eat a thirty-dollar burger. I literally don’t think I’m capable of doing that.”“Oh.”My stomach drops. “Okay.”He shakes his head. “My mom could buy dinner for us for three days with thirty dollars.”
That scene was a little awkward in the reading because it was told from Arthur’s perspective and we did not get Ben’s view of events, which is a reflection I think of one issue I had. Some of the events that we saw in the book, like this dinner date scene, were clouded through the view point of the person we saw and really needed the counterpoint of the other person in the interaction to make sense of the action, especially since the other person was an active character in the book and not some NPC.
Arthur’s concern about his parents, his anxiety over their fighting and the possibility of divorce, doesn’t seem to be treated with as much seriousness as Ben’s issues. When the Seuss parents are eventually sat down and talk to their son, there’s talk about how they are “regular messed up” and not “headed for divorced” messed up, but the very fact that their son had been under that impression, that their relationship had had that kind of effect on him, should really be a clue that some kind of damage control needed to be done. It wasn’t good that he’d been under such a huge amount of stress and that they dismissed it so easily.
END SPOILER TALK
There is a scene of homophobia on the subway that forces Arthur to confront his assumptions about acceptance. Being from the South, he assumed that while he might face that sort of antagonism in Georgia that New York would have it’s shit figured out. Being confronted by a father with his kid in tow on the subway, telling him to stop it with the PDA, Arthur realizes that this is far from the truth. It’s a terrifying moment for Arthur, even as Ben stands up to this man. It might be a hard moment to read for some people because the tension was certainly heightened.
There were a lot of pop culture references which I adored, from Broadway musicals (Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton) to Harry Potter and, my favorite, the bookstore culture of Union Square in NYC. Having been to that are of NYC several times, it was extra special to me to be able to picture Arthur and Ben walking around those streets, seeing them walk into Books of Wonder and The Strand.
Ben and Arthur’s relationship, as well as having its cute moments, also has healthy moments that I liked. Not only does this book demonstrate that asking for consent before engaging in sexual activities is the right and good thing to do, but that doing so throughout the experience is as well. Arthur and Ben check in with each other as things progress during their encounters. The first intimate time, when Arthur begins to realize that he’s feeling out of his depth and Ben asks, he’s able to tell him how he’s feeling freaked out and Ben comforts him. This is a healthy response and depiction.
While I was reading, I had this idea of what I wanted to happen at the end, this picture in my head that, while fuzzy, was what I thought would be the Happy Ever After for Arthur and Ben. However, there came a point when I realized that, whatever happened, even if the story ended with Arthur and Ben never seeing each other again, I don’t know that I could be sad. Ben actually had a good grasp on making the most of whatever time they had, of making sure they didn’t regret their choices, regardless of whether they’re together for a few weeks or a few months or even longer. There was pressure, sure, but also this effervescent feeling of hope coming from both of them.
This book is about more than romantic relationships. Friendships: figuring them out, what to do when they break, if they can be fixed, all of these elements were explored, even the possibility that it’s time to let go. Whatever happens, giving things a chance, exploring that possibility under the right circumstances (healthy ones, not toxic), can be invaluable.
What If It’s Us‘s boils down to hope, to taking chances, to not throwing away your shot, whether it’s on the possibility of a romantic relationship or the repair of a friendship you thought might be damaged beyond repair. There could be weirdness, some discomfort, but if you don’t take that chance, all you’ll have is that big WHAT IF.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.
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