Book review: What If It’s Us, by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

Albertalli, Becky and Adam Silvera. What If It’s Us. HarperTeen/Balzer + Bray. 2018. $18.99. 448p. HC. 9780062795250

I’ll be honest from the start: While I love Adam Silvera (whom I’ve met and is honestly one of the nicest people ever) and think Becky Albertalli is beyond talented, I did not plan to read What If It’s Us. See, my husband is in love with Adam, so I knew the whole story long before I ever got around to reading it. And I just knew I wouldn’t like it. I mean, two completely endearing yet flawed boys fall head over heels, keep screwing it up and giving themselves do-overs because their love is just too perfect to give up on, and then maybe don’t end up together? Sorry, not my cup of tea. I like my love stories with minimal drama and happily-ever-afters, emphasis on the ever-after.

Yet, I found myself volunteering to review What If It’s Us. And I met Arthur – beautiful, goofy, pure-hearted Arthur – and immediately knew I wasn’t going to be able to put this book down. Arthur’s spending his summer in New York City, and while that should be the most exciting thing to ever happen to this sweet little Southern Peach, NYC isn’t really what he was expecting. I mean, he can’t even stop to take a photo without New Yorkers harassing him for being a “tourist.” (This is for real, people. We New Yorkers do not stop to smell the roses; we’re all too busy rushing around and being miserable.)

And then he meets the cutest. Boy. Ever. Standing outside the post office in Midtown Manhattan. Joking about adult twins in matching rompers and discussing the universe. Being caught in the middle of a flash-mob proposal. Could this meet-cute get any more perfect? But the boy disappears before Arthur can get his name, Instagram handle, anything.

Meanwhile, NYC-native Ben can’t forget the cute boy with a hot dog bowtie. But all he knows is Arthur’s name and that he hopes to go to Yale someday. And, listen, not even Google’s that magical. Plus, Ben just broke up with his cheating ex – which is why he was at the post office in the first place – and he’s spending his summer trying not to get held back a year in school. He doesn’t have time for romance, no matter how perfect it might have seemed.

Luckily, both Ben and Arthur have pretty amazing support-systems (including quippy friends, super-cool parents, and maybe even the universe itself) who help them find their way back to each other. But it’s 100% up to them to decide where things go from there.

Becky and Adam are clearly two of the most talented YA authors currently on shelves, and none of that brilliant shine is lost here. Arthur is so optimistically upbeat, a purely glass-all-the-way-full kind of person. (If you’ve read Check, Please! and love Bitty, Arthur is going to be your kind of guy.) And while Ben so clearly sees the universe as his worst enemy, he can’t let go of the happiness and light Arthur’s brought to his city and life. The dialogue is snappy, the characters funny yet relatable, the plot just twisty enough to keep you guessing.

The only argument I could make against this joint effort is one I’ve heard from fellow book lovers who come is as distinct fans of either Becky or Adam: Such an upbeat rom-com feels off to Silvera enthusiasts, while not getting the expected happy ending has thrown many an Albertalli devotee for a loop. As someone who falls distinctly in the middle on this issue, I found the balance to be near-perfection.

If you’re looking for a clear-cut ending, What If It’s Us might not be for you. I won’t lie and say the last few chapters didn’t leave me feeling a little hollowed-out. What I will say is, had I not volunteered to review this book, I probably wouldn’t have read it. And then I would have missed out on one of the best YA titles of 2018.

In Ben’s own words, “What if we rewrite everything we expect from happy endings?”

Kaitlin Frick

New York Public Library

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