Review: What If It's Us
What If It’s Me? I’ve asked myself that question over and over during the Great Reading Apocalypse of 2018. I’ve even considered that maybe I just didn’t love reading anymore, but I quickly squashed that thought. It isn’t possible for me to not love reading. Books are everything. As you may know, I’ve been waiting for a book to restore my faith in 2018. Despite the hype, What If It’s Us was not that book, but it was a solid book and one that brought me some joy.
What If It’s Us had me until it didn’t. Albertalli and Silvera’s novel was too long by an epilogue. The epilogue ruined what was a perfect ending. The ending blended Albertalli’s happy “even if the character doesn’t deserve it” endings with Silvera’s perfectly written heartbreak. They left the reader in a real, although not satisfying, space until the epilogue happened. The epilogue ruined much of what came before and I wish I could unread it or at least forget it, but I can’t. Read the book, but definitely skip the epilogue since it dilutes and even cheapens much of what came before.
The plot it simple enough, two teenaged boys meet cute in a New York City post office but forget to exchange names or numbers. Will they overcome the odds and find one another in the big, bad city that never sleeps? Obviously. The odds were definitely in their favor thanks to a little help from their friends and the universe.
I’m a sucker for stories where the universe brings two people together. I know a little something about that, but mine involves a train and needing to move to a different train car because a stranger wanted my name, touched my hair, encroached upon my personal space, and wanted me to smile because patriarchy. Although, technically mine was a meet cute take two because the universe decided to give me a second chance to get it right. Well, not me, but he. Could be why the Giant Lion Turtle is so stingy with my requests now. They probably feel that they did me a big solid. I won’t argue, so thank you Giant Lion Turtle for my love story, but a girl can still ask for all the other things they want. No? Shockingly, I’ve digressed. Is this even a book review anymore? Was it ever?
What If It’s Us was co-written by Albertalli and Silvera in alternating chapters. Each author writes one of our two protagonists—Silvera writing Ben and Albertalli writing Arthur. All of Albertalli’s usual writing quirks are here. Arthur has a pair of best friends back home in a wealthy Atlanta suburb. If you guessed that one friend was a racially non-descript somewhat aloof guy and the other a perfectly peppy and understanding brown girl, you wouldn’t be wrong. In fairness to Albertalli, also present is her indefatigable attitude towards love, which is what made us all love Simon and Bram. It’s Silvera’s writing that feels fresh and new, but doesn’t it always. He doesn’t have writing tells other than his outright refusal to give his readers happy endings, or traditional happy endings. Silvera writes insecurity, internalized pain, and suffocating self-doubt so well. He also writes love stories—every time. Together they managed to write something worth reading. Although, I won’t lie, I would have loved to read the entire story from Ben’s perspective.
Arthur is a flat character who is too too much. He’s the gay male embodiment of the person Albertalli presents on social media. He’s not unlikeable, but he’s exhausting and annoys easily with his living embodiment of the heart eyed emoji personality coupled with dramatic outbursts, hair trigger jealousy, and unstoppable self-absorption. His middle name must be insecurity. If Arthur had been the only narrator, I would have left this book on a table in Starbucks and concluded my relationship with Albertalli. Silvera saved the day and kept me from using Starbucks as my personal discard pile.
Silvera’s Ben is nuanced and complex. He is a real person instead of a walking emoji, albeit a tall, beautiful one if we find our narrators reliable. More importantly, he balances Arthur who would be unbearable in larger doses. Ben struggles in school, with his self-esteem, with relationships, and thoughts of the past and future. The English teacher in me says he is the sole protagonist because he’s the character who is challenged, changes, and emerges as something new when our novel ends. Meanwhile, Arthur is still a walking emoji who now feels comfortable kissing random boys. You do the math.
Even though I’ve dedicated many a sentence to trashing Arthur, this book is absolutely worth the read. I can’t say this garnered Albertalli any brownie points from me, but I’ll be waiting for her next solo outing to determine where our relationship goes from here. I hope she breaks free from her own mold and tells me a story I won’t want to forget. I am always waiting for a new book from Silvera, and this book has made me even more eager to read his next book about the shape of love and beautiful damaged boys.