“I believe in love at first sight. Fate, the universe, all of it. But not how you’re thinking. I don’t mean it in the our souls were split and you’re my other half forever and ever sort of way. I just think you’re meant to meet some people. I think the universe nudges them into your path.”
What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Genre: YA, Contemporary, LGBT, Romance
Goodreads: 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?
… And I thought Twilight was bad. Okay, I didn’t hate Twilight that much, I quite enjoyed the films. But this? Whew. Okay. Deep breaths. This did not spark joy. Well, it did at first, but it got progressively and diabolically cheesy, the dialogue became increasingly unbelievable (seriously, nobody is this try-hard witty ever, and these characters are no Tyrion Lannister’s to pull off effortless wit) and insanely predictable. The last part was a whole ‘I love you so much because’ rambling fest, but, worst of all, the Harry Potter references took over half the book. I have only ever hated two other books: The Secret History and A Court of Thorns and Roses, and now I’m adding this book to that tiny pile.
What I Didn’t Like
The never-ending stream of Harry Potter references: It took a huge chunk of the book. That chunk could have been better used on exploring the characters and on a well-developed plot. I was enjoying the book at first and I, surprisingly, found myself laughing which was great because most books aren’t funny. But once Ben and Arthur’s romance started developing, an avalanche of Harry Potter references were released. You know when you’re in a snowball fight, and you find yourself surrounded and you’re being attacked left, right and centre? Yes, I was being attacked by Harry Potter references. Now, it could have been styled out well if Albertalli and Silvera had something interesting to add like the Hogwarts gangbanger theory in The Hate U Give, but, instead, they talked a whole lot without actually saying anything like it was a school assignment and they were writing minutes before the deadline. I hope we can, one day, move beyond YA authors paying homage to J. K. Rowling like they belong to the church of Harry Potter and if they don’t, it’s blasphemy or something. This isn’t fan fic, after all, this is your own book!
But they did manage to say one thing that didn’t line up at all:
“Okay, remember that moment – they were playing that Chris Brown song, and we walked off the dance floor to protest…” [p. 308]
Prior to this, Albertalli and Silvera engage in undeserved Ron-bashing and Hermione worshipping which is why the afore-mentioned dialogue is ironic. Jessie, Ben’s friend, protests a Chris Brown song being played, but where was their protest when Hermione beat up, nay, battered, Ron with birds in a jealous outburst? I can understand Hermione’s jealousy, but not her reaction. Sure, magic can make abuse seem remote, but abuse is abuse even if it is a woman committing the abuse. We see sheer and audacious double standards at play here. Or do we ignore abuse if the character is considered powerful, intelligent and, my oh my, reads books? Not only are the authors hypocritical, the plot could have been better developed instead of the stagnation that was offered if they invested in a plot instead of fantasising over Emma Watson’s non-existent lips (no offence, Emma, my lips are non-existent too).
Zero Chemistry: Ben and Arthur were so unsure about each other that at many points I wanted to scream at them to tell them to give it up already since Arthur is leaving New York soon anyway. The romance escalated so quickly with only a tiny fraction of reference to Ben’s ex-boyfriend who he had very, very recently broken up with and with whom we was attending summer school. And then we get a bucketload of cheese-fest and it was, frankly, sickening. There’s such a thing as too much fluff and this was it.
The Ethan Conundrum: I would have liked to have seen more of Dylan, but, halfway through, it became such a raging bore and a repeated ‘I love you because’ refrain that I was skimming just enough to find out what Ethan’s problem with Arthur is. It was obvious from the start that it had nothing to do with Arthur’s coming out and more so with Jessie with whom Ethan seemed particularly close, but I wanted to be surprised. I wasn’t. That’s how predictable the plot was. As was the ending. Absolutely nothing new or even remotely exciting to see here.
What I Did Like
The Characters: I love that Arthur was pro-Hamilton (the musical), pro-love and possessed zero chill. Arthur is the kind of person who would stress over anything, but make up for it in his adorkableness. In a way, he reminds me of Sam Thompson, Made in Chelsea reality star. My knowledge of Hamilton is zilch and I’m not even counting Lin Manuel Miranda because, yes, I know he is associated with musicals (right?), but that’s just about it. So, I wouldn’t have minded more discussion regarding the musical. But here’s the thing: there’s a whole lot of talk, but Arthur doesn’t really say anything interesting about it other than: zomg it’s so good! And… okay? Cool? That’s not much to go on, Arthur. Tell me more about it, hon.
Ben, on the other hand, is a fairly realistic character. He does project an air of reserve and coolness, but I am struggling to remember much about him other than the fact that he loves Harry Potter and is writing a fantasy novel about a wizarding war. I can’t say that after 400+ pages that I know much about Ben because I don’t. His friend Dylan, on the other hand, was far more interesting! Impulsive, romantic, logical, but then not so logical; his relationship with Samantha was more down-to-earth than Ben and Arthur’s and that’s even after Dylan called her his future wife on the first/second date.
Sexual Consent and Diversity: Something I loved was that Ben made sure to ask for consent during the more intimate scenes and I will give an entire star for demonstrating responsibility. I, also, enjoyed the diversity rep, particularly the subtle way Ben’s Puerto Rican heritage was explored, and I can say that I learned more about how Puerto Rican men and women can feel disconnected from their racial identity if their skin tone can be passed off as white and the privileges that may come because of it. Take, for example, Sal Vulcano from Impractical Jokers, I didn’t realise that Sal is of Puerto Rican heritage until it was mentioned (or I had read about it).
It took two months for this book to arrive (a message from the universe) and I’m so glad I borrowed it from the library instead of purchasing it. What a waste of money that would have been!
1/5 stars, and I’m disappointed in myself for buying into the hype, but all the book reviewers I love had rated it highly. Is Simon even worth reading? If it’s anything like this, I think I’ll pass.
What are your thoughts on What If It’s Us? What do you make of Harry Potter references in books? What would you have changed about this book? Is Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda any better? Let me know in the comments!