What If It’s Us is a standalone contemporary book set in New York City during the summer. The main characters are two gay boys, Adam and Ben, who meet at a post office but do not exchange their numbers and names. This book follows them as they try to find each other after that.
This was one of my most anticipated books for the second half of this year (thank you Simon & Shuster UK Children’s for the ARC!) because I had liked some of Albertalli’s and Silvera’s previous novels – especially Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and They Both Die at the End. While I did have some conflicting feelings about this book, I can’t say I’m disappointed.
I love reading about realistic diverse casts. The characters from What If It’s Us not only read like realistic teenagers, they read like real people, and the way they interacted never felt forced, even when the coincidences in this book were a bit over-the-top.
This is a book that understands teens, their friendships and their romantic relationships. It talks about what it’s like when two people in your friend group get together and then break up, about the awkwardness that follows, about what it’s like to try to remain friends with your ex.
I also loved the diversity here. This is a m/m story in which one of the main characters is Jewish and has ADHD (it’s mentioned that he takes medication for that), the other is Puerto Rican and white-passing. This book also talks about passing privilege and what it’s like to be openly gay in New York.
There are also chronically ill and biromantic asexual side characters.
I really liked reading about Arthur and Ben’s relationship. It was the perfect, realistic combination of messy, awkward and really cute, and I loved it for that. Arthur and Ben are sometimes immature and impulsive, and there’s miscommunication, but it never felt like relationship drama for the sake of it.
One of the things I liked the most about What If It’s Us – and I realize it may be an unpopular opinion – was the ending, which made me like this book a lot more. I always love books that explore the many forms relationships can have, and I love books whose focus is a couple that does not take the usual “romance novel” path. I’m also always there for every book about taking your chances, even if it the result may not be as perfect as you hoped (how many “not throwing away my shot” Hamilton references there were here?).
Anyway, I recommend not going into this expecting it to be a book in the romance genre, even if it is about a romance.
Another thing I loved about this book was the humor. The writing wasn’t always perfect, but the dialogues were always really good. Sometimes I’m surprised by how serious teens are in contemporary novels. Here, they aren’t, and this book often made me smile.
However, I have to say that there were some things I didn’t like about this book. The pacing was off, because this book was way longer than it should have been: there were some parts, especially before the ending, that were somewhat boring. I also would have toned down the pop culture references, there were too many of them, and I often didn’t understand what the characters were talking about.
Here’s the thing: American contemporary authors often assume that everyone who is going to read their books knows everything about the US – there were no descriptions of the setting because you’re supposed to know how it looks like, the references were never explained – but it’s not true. It would be fine if people living in the US were their only audience, but they aren’t. American books are read/translated in many countries (…my copy was an ARC of the UK edition) and I wish authors from the US stopped assuming so much.
My rating: ★★★¾