Book Review: What if it’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

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Reviewed by Jen Vincent

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: 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?

MY TWO CENTS: What If It’s Us starts with a super cute meet cute, has it’s fair share of drama and suspense, along with a dose of reality. Arthur and Ben meeting at the post office is totally adorable, but they still have a bit of a rocky start when they don’t exchange phone numbers after that first encounter. Eep!

It’s endearing to read alternating chapters from both of them, each with their different backgrounds, different experiences, and different family lives, coming together at the beginning of their relationship. One of the biggest things they have to navigate is their cultural differences. What I love about this book is that Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli get right the nuances of people from different cultures coming together. As someone who grew up in a mixed family and has been a Latina navigating mostly white spaces, I’ve experienced this many times, but it’s rare to see it in a book. For example, while it’s a stereotype that Latinx people are always late, Silvera and Albertalli don’t play into the stereotype; they get underneath it and show us that at play is an underlying difference in how cultural values are lived out. This could have been written in a superficial way, but instead, they show us what it looks like when characters take the time to go deeper rather than avoid difficult conversations.

I always appreciate when a contemporary romance is honest about relationships and not everything goes perfectly. I’m so glad we have books like What If It’s Us that celebrate being young and the excitement of exploring a new relationship while also showing what it looks like to grow together as a couple and how that’s not always as simple as fairy tales make it seem.

TEACHING TIPS: As a middle school teacher, I love using excerpts from novels as mentor texts with students. Sometimes we use mentor texts to get ideas and sometimes to look at craft. Here are two excerpts teachers can use to inspire middle or high school students to write their own stories, personal or fictionalized.

Chapter One – The first page starts with the line, “I am not a New Yorker, and I want to go home.” And then a paragraph where Arthur explains all the unspoken rules about being in New York and how he’s struggling. I suggest reading this and inviting students to think about a time when they didn’t feel like they fit in, there were so many unspoken rules, they felt out of place, and wanted to go home. I would model my thinking first–thinking aloud about times when I didn’t feel like I fit in–and then ask students to brainstorm. Once they have a list, ask them to choose one situation and write long about it. 

Chapter Six – Ben starts off chapter six with this line, “I wish I felt Puerto Rican out in the world the way I do at home.” Thinking about our unique and complex identities and how we are able to show up as ourselves in different situations is an important self awareness practice. I love that this book gives us an opportunity to think about our experiences in different spaces. In my experience, some students will be able to identify places where they are able to act more like themselves than others, but other students may feel affirmed in their identity and in the spaces they frequent. Invite students to make a list of places they go and then think about how comfortable they feel in each. Then they can write long about either not feeling able to be fully themselves in different spaces or what contributes to feeling able to be fully themselves in different spaces. 

If you read the next paragraph in chapter six, Ben goes on to explain that friends told him he wasn’t really Puerto Rican because he’s white-passing. This is an opportunity for a deeper discussion about what people might assume about us from our appearances and/or what we might assume about other people. Books are such a great way to invite students to think about stereotypes and bias because we get to see a myriad of stories. As someone who has spent much of her life not feeling enough, this is such an important discussion to have. What it means to be Latinx is varied, and we need to share more stories like this to help everyone understand that we are not a monolith. Pairing this excerpt from What If It’s Us with this spoken word poetry 8 Confessions of My Tongue from Noel Quiñones and discussing with students is one way to take this discussion even further.

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The sequel to What if it’s Us is also available. When you’re caught up with the first novel, check out Here’s to Us:

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Adam Silvera is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Infinity Reaper, Infinity Son, They Both Die at the End, More Happy Than Not, History Is All You Left Me, and—with Becky Albertalli—What If It’s Us and Here’s to Us. All his novels have received multiple starred reviews. He worked in the publishing industry as a children’s bookseller, community manager at a content development company, and book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. He was born and raised in New York. He lives in Los Angeles and is tall for no reason. 

Becky Albertalli is the number one New York Times bestselling author of William C. Morris Award winner and National Book Award longlist title Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (now a major motion picture, Love, Simon); The Upside of Unrequited; Leah on the Offbeat; the Simonverse novella Love, Creekwood; What If It’s Us (cowritten with Adam Silvera); Yes No Maybe So (cowritten with Aisha Saeed); and most recently, Kate in Waiting. Becky lives with her family in Atlanta. You can visit her online at http://www.beckyalbertalli.com.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Jen Vincent (she/her/ella) is a Latinx writer, blogger, and educator. She is a middle school LA/SS teacher and the founder of Story Exploratory where she offers a fun and funky community and curated resources to help amazing humans grow their confidence in using writing as self care. She believes radical self love is our path to change. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter and her website jenvincentwrites.com.

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