- my rating: 4 stars
- published by: HarperTeen
- genres: contemporary romance, young adult, lgbt+
- content warnings: homophobia, anxiety attacks, hospitalisation, alcohol use,
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?
Avengers: Infinity War came out and everyone was calling it the crossover event of the year but every YA contemporary fan knew the real crossover event of this year would be the release of What If It’s Us. The much anticipated release from best friend writing duo Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera has been on my radar ever since it got announced and I’ve been yelling with glee about this collab. So when an ARC of this hot little book fell into my hot little hands let me tell you, I was close to tears. I adore both Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera and have read all of their books, so this was pretty much my dream team up.
In many ways this book has all the hallmarks of a Albertalli/Silvera team up you’d except. We follow Arthur and Ben, who meet at a post office in New York. Ben is mailing back his ex boyfriends things when he runs into Arthur and the two instantly hit it off, but things go wrong and they don’t get each others number. From there we follow the two as they attempt to find each other through next level internet sleuthing and then go on a series of bad dates. Along the way there’s all the fluff and ridiculous yet unputdownable drama you’d expect from an Albertalli book and all the complicated relationships between friends, parents and ex-boyfriends, as well as discussions around identity, you’d expect from a Silvera book.
Both Ben and Arthur are gay, and Ben is also Puerto-Rican. This is OwnVoices for Adam Silvera. Arthur is Jewish and that is ownvoices for Becky Albertalli. As usual, I loved the nuance of the discussion around identity that Silvera embeds into his writing. I really liked that this wasn’t a coming out story and both kids were out to their parents and friends. It was really nice to have a kind of “post coming out” queer story. I also really liked that Ben had already had a boyfriend because I just really enjoy stories where one or both characters have already dated people, for some reason.
My favourite thing about this book was it’s maturity. Even though it’s a YA contemporary romance and it’s still corny as heck in some parts, a lot of this book takes it’s time to dissect romance tropes and interrogate how these tropes can’t be played out in real life, because real life is so goddamn messy. Ben has an ex-boyfriend he may or may not be over, and he regrets messing up the friendship group because of their breakup. Arthur can’t help but feel jealous of Arthur’s experience and brings unrealistic expectations into the relationship. The grand expectations of a New York romance you get from Hollywood and Broadway are brutally torn down here, and I really enjoyed it. Real life romance is messy and that is showcased here, but at the same time it kept enough fluff and cuteness that I didn’t feel sad reading this.
The friendship dynamics were also done so well here. Both Ben and Arthur have a friendship group that is going through some turmoil. Ben’s group has been torn apart by intra-group dating and Arthur feels distant from his friends since he moved to New York, and he’s sure one of them doesn’t accept him coming out as gay. I really liked how the friendship complications were done here. Friends are just as complicated as relationships and I thought it was so realistic to portray the groups this way. Ben’s issues with his group falling apart because some friends are now exes resonated with me a lot and the idea that the saddest thing about a relationship falling apart is also losing that friendship was something I related to a lot. I also have to give a special shoutout to Dylan, Ben’s best friend, whomst I LOVED. He was hilarious and added the comic relief to some parts of the book and I literally adored him. Please write his story next Silvertalli.
Character wise, I really enjoyed the character development here. Both the main boys have lots of flaws that keep them from connecting properly. Ben is really proud and doesn’t let anyone in. He struggles to be vulnerable and portrays this cool exterior so no one can really hurt him. Arthur is over-eager and jealous and decides things in his head without letting other people share their perspectives. Throughout the book you really see how they change and develop, and how the relationship improves them both as individuals. Although it’s not as subtle as some of the best character work I’ve seen, especially from Silvera, I thought it was still really well done. The contrast between the boys in the prologue and epilogue was really stark and I loved that.
In saying that, lets talk about that ending. I personally loved it but I know it’s going to be divisive. I think the reason I loved it is because it really drives home the maturity of this book and the focus on modern romances. I don’t want to say much and spoil it, but I’ll just say I think it was really cathartic and realistic, and actually made me happier then anything else would have.
But there were a few negatives I spotted out that kept me from really enjoying this. First off, it’s so hard to tell the perspectives apart at the beginning. I found it so confusing, knowing which character was Ben and which was Arthur. I admit this may be totally my fault, but when the cover came out I thought the tall one was Arthur and the shorter was Ben, and when it was the other way around it threw my mind on a total loop.
I also think there was a real over saturation of pop culture references here. I love a good reference in a book, but there was so much and so much I didn’t understand too. I get this was supposed to be about New York and New York culture but I just felt so overwhelmed by it all. I haven’t seen Hamilton or Dear Even Hanson and that is fine, but I don’t think it should prevent me from understanding whole paragraphs of dialogue. I do think the references were good in that it really situated this in the present and realistically people do talk about things they like a lot, but it was just so overwhelming at points.
While I really liked this, I think I was maybe expecting something just a little bit more from these authors. Overall it was really cute and a page turner, but it wasn’t groundbreaking. But I appreciate how this wasn’t that formulaic and it’s not the typical YA romance you’d expect. I definitely enjoyed reading it, and I think lots of people are going to really love it. The characters were really well written, and the focus on friendship groups here earned a big tick from me. Though, I will say the character development is maybe not as great as I’ve seen Adam Silvera do before. This was a pretty ambitious task to take on, but Adam and Becky wrote such a cohesive book where their writing styles meshed so well, and I really hope they collab again in the future because I’d love to read it.
What If It’s Us is going to please so many people, I know it. It’s cute and dramatic, but also realistic and grounded in the exploration of two deeply flawed characters who are trying their best to make it work with that they have.
What if It’s Us releases on October 19, 2018
until next time!