What If It’s Us, written by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli, is the story of first love and the strange, match-making ways of the universe.
Arthur is a believer in the universe. So is Ben, but for different reasons. When the two run into each other at the post office, it seems too good to be true. Especially since Ben’s holding a shipping box full of his ex’s stuff. Can the universe keep them together, once they find each other again, that is? (It wouldn’t be an epic love story without a little work.) Or are they meant for one New York summer and nothing more?
It’s rare that I find a book that makes me laugh out loud. Yeah, I find an occasional chuckle every now and then, but this book was so different. What If It’s Us was charming and endearing and had so many good references that I was grinning and laughing almost every chapter. (Thank you thank you for the Waffle House shout out, Silvera and Albertalli. I nearly died with happiness reading it.)
But the very first thing that completely hit me in the face about this book was that I found myself relating so strongly to both lead characters.
Arthur is completely fascinated with New York. It’s so different from his hometown in Georgia. No matter how long he’s in the city, he finds himself gazing at it like it’s this strange, bustling, chaotic entity. (Which it is.) He’s amazed at the fact that New Yorkers don’t seem to notice what an absolute place their home is. But that’s a tourist for you. That dazed feeling – of living in New York – is so realistic and brilliantly depicted through Arthur’s eyes. I myself have lived in the city for about a year and I’m still struck with that same fascination.
When Arthur and Ben eventually clash, the reader gets a first look at just how insecure first love can be. (I’ve been there. We’ve all been there.) It really offers a better insight into both their characters.
Arthur just can’t help but question exactly why Ben is with him. He can’t stop asking about the break up and Ben’s relationship with ex boyfriend Hudson. His jumpiness is so fucking relatable. There’s a part where Arthur checks his phone before their first date and doesn’t see any texts from Ben. His first emotion is relief, because no text means Ben hasn’t canceled. OOOF. That anxiety hits home something awful. Both authors paint this painfully real look into love’s raw, very intimate experience. At the end of the day that reality, that Arthur is not Ben’s first, is always gnawing at the back of his head. The whole novel is an amazing balance between a Hallmark-ish love story and the reality of one.
“And of course there would be kissing. My first kiss. Followed by the loss of my virginity in some quiet, starlit field.
But no. Not even close. Instead, it’s me bleeding out all my neuroses, looking for answers to questions I have no place asking. But I don’t know how to make myself stop asking them. People like me should come with a mute button.” – Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli
The anxiety of firsts goes both ways. Ben just broke up with Hudson, driving a wedge between their previous friendship and the friend group. And he still can’t bring himself to mail that damn box. Ben’s worried Arthur may be too good for him, that he’s just a dumb guy stuck in summer school. He’s awkward and guarded, constantly looking at things half-empty. Another big OOOF hitting me hard. The reader can tell that Ben doesn’t really love himself the way that he should. He is just so unsure.
“No, you didn’t screw it up… I’m the one who messed up. I’m always ready to flip off anything good the universe throws my way since I swear the universe hates me. But maybe the universe is just playing a long game. Like everything that’s ever gone wrong was so it could be right later. I don’t know.” – Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli
That dialogue though… So down-to-earth and so very like Ben. That’s the other thing about What If It’s Us: it doesn’t throw together two faceless, virtually identical characters. It brings together two people. People who aren’t sure what the fuck they are doing. People who love Hamilton and people who think Skittles double as breath mints. Because that is what first love, and most other kinds of love, is. It’s a layered, messy, painful understanding.
The true beauty that this book captures is what happens when love doesn’t work out. And it’s not solely talking about it in the traditional romantic sense. Silvera and Albertalli also explore the love behind a friendship too. First love may be breathtaking and scary, but so are navigating friendships, because they last a lot longer. Both authors truly show the reader that sometimes, when you let people go, they don’t have to be gone for good. Love can blossom into a friendship the same way it can the other way around.
I think we all can learn a thing or two from that.
Overall, this intimate, realistic love story gets a 10/10 in my book. I have literally nothing negative to say and I’m not sorry for it. I want the movie and I want it done well.