Arthur and Ben are relatively different. Arthur is applying for Yale and is on an internship in New York City, and is returning home to New Jersey at the end of the year. He has two best friends, Jessie and Ethan, but Ethan has been a little shady with Arthur lately and he doesn’t know why. His bosses, Namrate and Juliet, are more than willing to make sure he gets a proper amount of work done but are more than happy to support whatever situation comes his way, such as Ben. Ben is currently in summer school because he and his boyfriend Hudson spent more time counting their freckles than math equations or history years. Worst of all, he and Hudson broke up after they got in a fight over this, and when Ben thought he could return to him he found out Hudson made out with a guy or two thinking Ben would never come back to him. Ben and his Puerto Rican family is not doing the best ever financially but somehow managing. Ben’s best friend Dylan has found a girlfriend named Samantha, a waitress at a coffee shop Dylan hates, and Ben is worried because Dylan always says a girl is “the one” and planning a million things making it uncomfortable until it can no longer go on. Ben’s also writing a fantasy book that’s Harry Potter meets World of Warcraft meets his own messed up life, but after Hudson he’s not sure how he can continue it. Basically, each of them has their lives to think about. They’re both gay, however, a fact that lights up at the New York post office when Arthur sees him and thinks he’s the cutest ever, and by chance they end up chastising an unusual occurrence together. They blurt out their sexuality to each other by chance, and virgin Arthur ends up very excited about the idea of finally having a boyfriend, but since Ben’s still feeling the after effects...Ben ends up leaving the post office early and both boys regret not exchanging numbers tremendously. Ben is not completely into Arthur as vice versa, but they both try to relocate each other somehow in the city that never sleeps. And if they do, can they somehow make it work?
Here’s a simple way of putting my feelings: this is a long yet fun book to read, 440 pages of good people respecting each other and hanging out just like the last time you hung around with a group playing Apples to Apples. And is it cute? It’s hard to mess that up when it’s an LGBTQ+ book. The truth is, gay and lesbian couples are cuter these days because of the way society used to and still tries to reject them but they don’t care as long as they have each other, as well as how few homosexual people are actually in the world making a meet-up feel miraculous. Arthur and Ben manage to pull it off right. So I thought I would love this book...and I would’ve if I hadn’t felt like I’d already read it. You can maybe blame One Man Guy and Hold My Hand, both by Michael Barakiva, for me saying this book is a little late to the party. After those and History is All You Left Me, I already wholeheartedly understood how amazing New York City is, and how it’s the utopia, the sanctuary, for boys in love. And Alek and Ethan, Barakiva’s couple, as well as Alex and Donovan from Escape from Furnace (is it creepy how similar those paired name groups are?) are even more adorable when you think about how they’re very different from one another in significant ways, like speaking style, clothes, body, but they’re willing to have a go at the other’s lifestyle so they can get to know one another better. It’s true that Arthur and Ben have very different lifestyles and it’s definitely enjoyable witnessing their light culture shocks, but their narrations end up feeling too congruent to each other. This is written by Albertalli and Silvera both, but through and through this book feels written by only one author.
Also, there are a few times where drama seems to come out of nowhere, where one person just feels whiny. Sometimes I felt Arthur was overly impatient, and just didn’t understand there are always slight hiccups when in a relationship. I get he wasn’t actually used to relationships, but it slightly brought down the experience. Ben talks about how poor his family is, and they don’t have a lot of green, but there’s not really anything that suggests they’re in trouble with paying bills right now.
But let’s have a break from the bad stuff. This isn’t the first book I’ve read about where a couple is afraid to have sex because they’re worried if one is bad at it it will wreck their relationship, but I still care for the message that a healthy relationship is one where they both care more about how they make their partner happy rather than how they make them feel good. And the beginning way of having them separated and having to look for each other was a great storytelling idea. I was wary of how Arthur and Ben meet in the very first chapter and worried there would be nothing else but their romance for the rest of this book, but by giving us a chunk of the book where they’re trying to relocate each other in the city that never sleeps, we don’t feel like this is an insta-love story, we have time to properly meet the other characters, and we have time to realize Arthur and Ben really, really, really do want to get to know one another. It was a sweet mix.
I liked Ben’s book. It felt cluttered, unfocused and improvised, just like all beginning authors write their debut production, and by that I mean experimentation to see if they can finish a manuscript in the first place. Ben writes it based off of the people in his life, and what they go through alongside him, which is in my opinion a supreme way to write a book, giving people who want to be authors some subliminal messaging. Despite the fact Arthur doesn’t have to worry about cash, he has a job he’s working very hard on, and is clearly someone who would help out others in financial trouble if he had to. The guys are very self-aware when they mess up, and ask for several do-overs. It was funny and relatable, them both agreeing on how something went wrong, and should give ideas to people who go out for coffee on how best to be honest with the person with them.
The ending was fine as well, inevitable but realistic and brings a truth to the table we all must face; in relationships, we’re not sure of the future, and that can be very scary, but who’s to say what will end up happening? The best we can hope for is be hopeful and happy.
So, if you don’t end up reading What If It’s Us, you’re not missing out on too much in the long run of all the amazing LGBTQ+ books now available on display. But the book fits the bill if you’re looking for something to put you in the mood to do something innocent and fun with your boy or girlfriend.