WHAT IF IT’S US by BECKY ALBERTALLI AND ADAM SILVERA
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
I’ve been reading YA books since I was twelve. The first proper YA book I remember reading and loving is Twilight. I was obsessed with it, of course, and frantically devoured every vampire book I could get my hands on after that. I’ve been reading YA ever since. I love YA. It’s my passion, and I rarely read outside of it. However, I think I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I’ve aged out of certain stories. What If It’s Us by contemporary YA powerhouses, Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, is one of those stories.
Prior to What If It’s Us, I’ve never read anything by either Becky or Adam. Albertalli is of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda fame, and Silvera recently released They Both Die At the End to critical acclaim. I figured, hey, if I’m going to read something by either of these authors, I may as well start with the book they’ve co-written. Maybe that was a bad choice, because I found myself underwhelmed by What If It’s Us. It’s a story that will no doubt be turned into a Netflix movie within the next year—the story of two gay boys, Arthur and Ben, as they enter into a whirlwind romance over one summer in New York City. Arthur is wide-eyed and naïve—being an implant from Georgia—and Ben is an NYC local who is far more cynical than Arthur could ever dream of being. The book starts off with that Netflix-worthy meet-cute—a “break-up box” and a hot dog tie is involved—and things progress from there.
Initially, I was charmed by What if It’s Us. There’s a lot of lightness, a lot of humor, and discussions about more serious topics like race and classism are thrown in there for good measure. The book isn’t flippant about these topics, but they aren’t the main focus of the story. The main focus is Arthur and Ben’s relationship, and that’s where I ran into problems. What If It’s Us doesn’t have Arthur and Ben getting together until about 200 pages into the book. It took way too long and I found myself wanting to skip ahead a lot. Furthermore, the book’s “humor” started to irritate me after awhile. Too many pop culture references and humor that doesn’t entirely jive with my own for about 430 pages was overwhelming, to say the least.
Something else that frustrated me about What If It’s Us was the too-convenient way obstacles were thrown into Arthur and Ben’s relationship. They fought, they made up. They fought again, and made up again. Eventually they break up for awhile over something that could have easily been resolved if Arthur and Ben would have just talked to each other. Then again, they’re sixteen, and I’m not. Perhaps I’ve gotten too old for these kinds of stories, or perhaps sixteen is just a tad too young for me, but either way, I found myself more irritated than charmed during most of my time with What If It’s Us.
Despite my gripes, I can see why Alberalli and Silvera are as popular as they are. They’re honest and funny and know how to write a charming love story—no matter how frustrating it is. Race, class, gender, and sexuality are all discussed with sensitivity and inclusivity, which is always appreciated. Arthur is Jewish with ADHD and Ben is Puerto Rican. Both are gay, and none of these intersections are ignored. I didn’t particularly care for them as characters, though. Mostly they just annoyed me. My favorite character was Ben’s friend, Dylan. Dylan is the Token Straight Friend, but he’s so charming and sweet that I couldn’t help but love him.
Your mileage may vary with What If It’s Us. So many people love it, and with good reason. I just wasn’t one of them. But if this sounds interesting to you, check out a copy of What If It’s Us at the Argenta Library!