Review of Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera's "What If It's Us"

On October 9th, Becky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda, and Adam Silvera, author of They Both Die in the End, released their newest book What If It's Us, which they co-wrote together. Both authors are known for writing realistic and influential LGBT+ content, and Albertalli's Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda was adapted into the movie Love, Simon in 2018 and was an important movement in the LGBT+ community. 

What If It's Us is a YA novel about two rising high school seniors who meet by chance in New York City. Albertalli's character, Arthur, is from Georgia, who moved to New York City for the summer with his parents because his mother is working as a lawyer for a firm based in New York, and where Arthur also works as an intern. On his way to work one morning, he runs into a cute boy on the sidewalk and follows him into the post office to initiate conversation. The boy is Ben, NYC native, who is sending back his ex-boyfriend's things in a box. Both boys are starkly different in almost every aspect, but the boys still keep finding each other and try to make their relationship work. 

I pre-ordered a signed copy of What If It's Us. Since I have read all of Becky Alber​talli's other books and saw Love, Simon in theaters, I was looking forward to another LGBT+ fiction from one of my favorite authors. In general, I really enjoyed the book, especially since this was one of the first books I've read in a while that I didn't have to study for school. I would give it about four out of five stars. 

However, there are some specifics that I would love to get into about the story itself. There will be spoilers ahead, so flag this page for later if you haven't gotten around to reading this great book yet. 

Criticisms 

There's no such thing as a perfect book, and there are some things that I felt brought this book down from five starts to only four. However, these criticisms are completely personal and I am a very picky reader, so something that you loved about the book I might have included here. 

Plot 

In general, young adult is not my favorite genre because the plots just never interest me. However, Albertalli has been able to keep me engaged in her other books, which is why I was a little disappointed in the weaker plot of What If It's Us. The conflict of the book just didn't seem strong enough to keep me interested, so everything felt very stretched and dragged out. In general, the plot was what brought down the overall rating of the book for me; I needed something that I didn't want to put down, not something I had to think about picking up each day. 

The Ending 

A couple of years ago, I watched Roman Holiday, a romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. The movie is about a runaway princess (Hepburn) who enjoys a romantic getaway in Rome with an ambitious reporter (Peck). The movie leads everyone to think that the princess and the reporter will give up their previous lives to be with each other in happiness, but in the end, they both go back to their respective lives and look back on their day of freedom together fondly.

The ambiguous ending of What If It's Us reminds me of that, leaving me feeling unsatisfied and like there was supposed to be more there. I am okay with the concept of Ben and Arthur breaking up, and I'm even more okay with them ending up together, but the epilogue left everything open ended and up to the reader to decide whether or not Ben and Arthur get back together, which just did not give me the overly romantic and happy feeling that I hoped to gain from this book. 

Ethan and Jessie's Relationship 

While I loved their individual characters, I was not fond of the common trope where there is conflict in a friend group because two of the friends decided to start dating, especially since this is a trope Albertalli has employed in her other books. There is so much room for something more developed and original, and that needs more time and commitment than a simple conversation to be resolved. Keeping their relationship a secret really took a toll on the dynamics of the friend group, and Arthur did not take the news that his best friends were dating very well, so the build up and resolution just felt weak. Arthur moving to New York City and being separated from his friends for the summer before their senior year could have definitely impacted their friend group just as well as friends dating, but without the cliches. 

Praises 

While it might seem like I had many criticisms, I would not have finished the book if I had hated it, and I still believe this book deserves four stars. To end on a happier note, here are the things that I just loved about What If It's Us

Representation 

Beyond the two gay main characters, this book is full of representation. Arthur is Jewish and Ben is Cuban. LGBT+ literature is still very scarce and often stars white main characters from either Christian or atheist religious backgrounds, so having both of the boys be characters of color was an amazing step in representation of the whole community in the media. Ben's development goes further, as he deals with the issues of being a white-passing, non-Spanish speaking Cuban, and how he often feels alienated from his own culture because of his appearance. Hudson was also a child of divorce, and the book shows how that affects his romantic relationship with Ben, which is something not often brought up in literature. There are three gay characters in What If It's Us, and all of them are very uniquely different, reflecting on how there is no one way to be gay. 

Support of Family and Friends

Both of Ben and Arthur's families and all of their friends are very accepting of their sexualities and their relationship, which is refreshing in a YA book, where a lot of the conflict for LGBT+ characters comes from them dealing and struggling with rejection by family and friends because of who they are. Especially when Ben and Arthur come from backgrounds that are typically painted as unaccepting and negative towards the LGBT+ community, highlighting welcoming and safe environments that these boys are apart of might help others who also fall under these groups. 

Realistic and Flawed Characters 

None of the characters in this story were perfect, and they all had their own individual flaws that added to the depth of their characters and related to the plot. Ben is always late and lies a lot to Arthur throughout the story, which sometimes hurts the people around him. Arthur is a little high strung and has very high (sometimes unrealistically so) expectations of people, which ends up hurting him a lot. It is so easy to write amiable characters that are perfect in every aspect, so Ben and Arthur's depth is a reflection of the great writing of Albertalli and Silvera, as well as the amount of work and effort that went into developing their characters. 

Ben and Dylan 

One of my favorite things about this book in totality was Ben and Dylan's friendship. They have a very genuine, healthy friendship without ever insinuating that either of them have feelings for each other. Often in the media, men are very rarely depicted as having very intimate close relationships; on the rare occasion that men do have these relationships represented, people assume that they are only close because they are romantically interested in each other. However, Ben and Dylan are able to overcome this while preserving their healthy friendship. They know everything about each other, share clothes, talk about relationships together, and they both support each other in the ways that they need, Ben even rushed to the hospital once because Dylan had a panic attack, and he thought he was having a heart attack. Dylan in general is just a hilarious character who was enjoyable to read, but his relationship with Ben made him even more amazing to read. 

While the plot brought down the book a bit, the interesting, well-written, and unique characters that fell on a wide spectrum of representation carried the book to new heights. I will continue to look forward to Albertalli's books, and I am definitely going to grab a copy of Silvera's They Both Die in the End as soon as possible. There are also rumors of What If It's Us being made into a movie by the creators of 13 Reasons Why, which is another great push for LGBT+ representation in the media.