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


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.


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:


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




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

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz


Reviewed by Alexandra Someillan

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHERS: In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, two boys in a border town fell in love. Now, they must discover what it means to stay in love and build a relationship in a world that seems to challenge their very existence.

Ari has spent all of high school burying who he really is, staying silent and invisible. He expected his senior year to be the same. But something in him cracked open when he fell in love with Dante, and he can’t go back. Suddenly he finds himself reaching out to new friends, standing up to bullies of all kinds, and making his voice heard. And, always, there is Dante, dreamy, witty Dante, who can get on Ari’s nerves and fill him with desire all at once.

The boys are determined to forge a path for themselves in a world that doesn’t understand them. But when Ari is faced with a shocking loss, he’ll have to fight like never before to create a life that is truthfully, joyfully his own.

MY TWO CENTS: After reading this book, I realized that this story is one of the sweetest and most heartwarming slice-of-life novels I have ever read. Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World describes the magic of falling in love for the first time– how terrifying and beautiful it is at the same time. In the first book, Dante opened up Aristotle’s eyes and made him face the truth about himself. Aristotle began to fall in love with Dante, but he still had difficulty opening himself up to others. In this novel, Aristotle’s love for Dante shakes up his whole universe and makes him realize that he shouldn’t shut off the people who love him.

Aristotle learns to open himself up to others along the way, and he makes lifelong friends who help him realize he was never truly alone. Dante, his family, and friends help Aristotle face the demons inside him that have been tucked away for a long time. They also help Aristotle get through one of the most significant life-altering moments of his life. I loved reading about these characters because they reminded me how life is about living it with the people you love. How Ari’s friends and family help him along the way is my favorite thing about this book because they are the exact kind of people anyone would be lucky to have in their life. The people who rally around Aristotle are the people you would want in your life forever.

In the first novel, the reader gets to know all the facets of Dante, but in this novel, he takes a bit of a backseat to other characters. Even though I loved the other characters in the book, I wanted more of Dante, especially since he goes through his life changes in this book and is the impetus for why Aristotle has changed so dramatically.

Besides Aristotle trying to find himself again, he also deals with the tumultuous world in the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic. Being a kid during the eighties and early nineties, I remember the devastation of this virus, but I never realized how much of a cultural impact it had on the entire world. Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Water of the World was the first book I read that eloquently describes the AIDS crisis and how the characters struggle with it and question their own identity in a world that hates who they love.

There are also thought-provoking discussions about what it means to be queer in a heteronormative society, especially the Latine culture’s reluctance to accept members of the LGBTQ community. The characters also deal with racism; the book perfectly analyzes the meaning of racism and delves into what makes someone racist. I enjoyed how the book made me think about serious issues and why people are the way they are. However, what I love most about this novel is its beautiful message — that learning how to love again could save us from ourselves.


TEACHING TIPS: Since Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World takes place during the AIDS epidemic, this would be an excellent opportunity to teach about the history of AIDS and how it has influenced society, then and now.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website): Benjamin Alire Sáenz (born 16 August 1954) is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books. He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature. A year later, he was awarded a Wallace E. Stegner fellowship. While at Stanford University under the guidance of Denise Levertov, he completed his first book of poems, Calendar of Dust, which won an American Book Award in 1992. He entered the Ph.D. program at Stanford and continued his studies for two more years. Before completing his Ph.D., he moved back to the border and began teaching at the University of Texas at El Paso in the bilingual MFA program.

His first novel, Carry Me Like Water, was a saga that brought together the Victorian novel and the Latin American tradition of magic realism and received much critical attention.

In The Book of What Remains (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), his fifth book of poems, he writes to the core truth of life’s ever-shifting memories. Set along the Mexican border, the contrast between the desert’s austere beauty and the brutality of border politics mirrors humanity’s capacity for both generosity and cruelty.

In 2005, he curated a show of photographs by Julian Cardona.

He lives and works in El Paso, Texas.



ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Alexandra Someillan is a freelance book reviewer and teacher who lives in Miami, FL. She has written for Frolic Media, where she has raved about her favorite Latinx romances. Currently, she has been accepted in the Las Musas mentorship and is working on her Latinx contemporary novel with Nina Moreno. Usually, you can find Alexandra obsessing over nineties pop culture and eating too many pastelitos.

Book Review: The Sowing: The Torch Keeper Series, Book Two by Steven Dos Santos

17342414By Eileen Fontenot

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: “This time, there are no choices. Lucian “Lucky” Spark leads a double life. By day, he trains to become one of the Establishment elite. At night, he sabotages his oppressors from within, seeking to avenge the murder of his love, Digory Tycho, and rescue his imprisoned brother. But when he embarks on a risky plot to assassinate members of the Establishment hierarchy, Lucky is thrust into the war between the Establishment and the rebellion, where the lines between friend and foe are blurred beyond recognition. His only chance for survival lies in facing the secrets of the Sowing, a mystery rooted in the ashes of the apocalyptic past that threatens to destroy Lucky’s last hope for the future.”

MY TWO CENTS: Wow. When I say, the action doesn’t stop, well, it just doesn’t stop. The reader is taken immediately to a dramatic fight a couple of months after newly minted Imposer Lucky finishes the trials, portrayed in the first book, The Culling. The series is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which the totalitarian Establishment, led by Cassius Thorn, really enjoys keeping Parish citizens downtrodden.

We continue to view the world through Lucky’s eyes – including struggle to protect his little brother, Cole, and the injustices he must now pretend to participate in, while actively working toward positive change. We can see that Lucky has grown and matured, but is weighed by his constant terror of losing Cole. As he is forced to return to the Trials, this time as an Incentive, he experiences old horrors in new ways – and we learn more about the mysteries of the first book as well. There are a couple shocking twists, that I won’t mention here, but suffice it to say, this is one entertaining read. And readers can see that a bigger story line is building – bound to shake up Lucky’s already precarious situation.

The amazing thing about this series, besides the edge-of-your-seat suspense that gives the reader inventively gory payoffs, is that the sexuality of the LGBTQ characters are treated totally matter of factly. In this horrific version of our future, at least society recognizes that love is love. I think LGBTQ teens who love dystopian thrillers like The Hunger Games will enjoy a similar story that focuses on sympathetic characters that just happen to be gay. Dos Santos doesn’t make a big deal out of his characters’ sexuality. Normalizing this aspect of society is a long time coming; I think today’s teens deserve to envision a future without a closet and this series supports that idea. Although it would be nice if the other parts of the future didn’t go down the drain!

This series would be great as a pick for a LGBTQ teen book group, whether for high school or in a public library. It’s an excellent counterpoint for LGBTQ books that are serious or that focuses on sexuality as the actual story. Teens will also understand Lucky’s growth and his love of family. But, most of all, it’s just a fun read.

AUTHOR: Steven dos Santos was born in New York City and raised in south Florida. He began writing at 7, but didn’t become a professional writer until after graduating with a communications degree and then spending time working in the field of law. The two books of The Torch Keeper series are his first professionally published works, and The Culling has been added to the 2014 ALA GLBTQ’s Rainbow Project Reading List. He’s currently at work writing the final book in The Torch Keeper series.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Dos Santos and The Sowing, visit your local library or bookstore. Online he can be found at,,,, and

fontenot headshotEileen Fontenot is a recent graduate of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. She works at a public library and is interested in community service and working toward social justice. A sci-fi/fantasy fan, Eileen was formerly a newspaper writer and editor.

YA Author Steven dos Santos Talks Sci-Fi, Diversity, and Overcoming Obstacles

12617286By Eileen Fontenot

This month, we are taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. Today, we have a Q&A with Steven dos Santos, author of The Culling and The Sowing.

Born in New York City and raised in South Florida, Steven dos Santos began writing at age 7. It was only after a couple different career paths as an adult that he decided to become a professional writer. His trilogy, entitled The Torch Keeper, is his first effort. Book One, The Culling, was published last year, and the second book, The Sowing, was published in 2014.

In addition to the mind-boggling twists and shocks and the intense descriptions of violence and the horror in which his characters live in their dystopian world, what makes this series special is its main character, Lucian “Lucky” Spark, who is gay. Also striking is that the world in which dos Santos’ characters inhabit have equal rights, such as marriage equality. It’s also a bit of a novelty to have the main character in this type of genre not be a straight female. (Looking at you, Katniss Everdeen.)

Steven was kind enough to answer a few questions for Latin@s in Kid Lit – among other things, about the rewards and struggles of his writing career and what’s in store for the future.

Eileen: Could you tell us a bit about what prompted you to write this series? What is it about this genre that is appealing to you?

Steven: I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi movies and books, particularly stories that deal with moral dilemmas. Ever since I was a kid I was always terrified by the idea of what would happen if I was in a situation where I could only save one person that I loved. Who would I choose? How would I choose in such an impossible situation? Writing The Culling gave me a chance to explore that no-win scenario and grapple with my own nightmares.

Eileen: What kind of research do you do to create your books’ themes/characters/setting?

Steven: For The Torch Keeper series, I found myself researching a lot of different things that probably raised a few eyebrows at the NSA! LOL. Everything from disarming explosive devices, the effects of hypothermia on the body, symptoms of terminal illnesses, the history and stats of the Statue of Liberty, humankind’s negative effects on the environment and potential harm it can create in the future, etc. Even though both The Culling and The Sowing have futuristic elements, I felt it was very important to ground them in reality in order to heighten the emotional effects. All the tech and post-apocalyptic devastation are based on things that could actually happen, which, in my opinion, not only raises the stakes, but definitely increases the tension.

17342414Eileen: Do you base your characters on people you know in real life? Would you say that Lucky is a reflection of yourself?

Steven: I try not to base my characters on specific people that I know. I may borrow traits from people I’ve encountered and then blend those together to create someone totally different. That being said, my protagonist, Lucian “Lucky” Spark is very sensitive, a dreamer, and a bit of a romantic. He also likes to read and he’s a gay male of Latin descent. You do the math! 😉

Eileen: What are your thoughts on diversity in YA scifi/fantasy works? Is this an important issue for you personally? If so, how?

Steven: This is an issue I’m very passionate about! While I think it’s great that there is definitely an increased awareness on the parts of readers and publishers alike regarding diversity in YA scifi/fantasy, I think we are only beginning to scratch the surface of this extremely important issue. Everyone deserves to see him or herself portrayed as the hero of a novel, the one to save the world. It’s also extremely important for young people to read about all types of people and realize just how much they have in common. Growing up, I wish there had been more books that included characters like me on their pages. This was definitely a big motivator in writing The Torch Keeper series.

Eileen: Who or what has influenced you in your writing career? Do you feel that being a gay Latino influences your work?

Steven: My mom was a definite inspiration in pursuing my writing dreams. I was brought up not only embracing my Hispanic heritage, but also to be proud of the country of my birth, America. I also definitely feel being part of a minority (or more than one in my case) has challenged me to strive for greater representation of diversity. But on those days when I’m feeling particularly frustrated, I read these messages I’ve received.

This one from a high school student:

Thanks for writing a great book and I hope it receives all of the attention it deserves. I know some people won’t pick up the book because it has gay characters. I try to plead with them because it is a great book. Love is love to me and everyone should be accepted for what they are and that’s the great thing about your book. Right now I’m struggling with my own sexuality, not really struggling because I know I am gay but my mother doesn’t accept them. You have inspired me though to try to come out. You have relieved some of the pressure. Thank you.

And this other one from another reader:

I just really want to say thank you for your books because it’s really really awesome to see a novel with an openly queer protagonist on the shelf at Barnes and Noble and then read it and find that the book isn’t about the “struggles of being a queer teen” and instead created actual conflicts rather than people just being appalled by two boys being together and after I read The Culling I sat down and just cried because it’s so nice to feel validated and accepted especially if you live in a place where being accepted as anything other than heterosexual is unheard of so yeah thank you so so much for your books they’re incredible and I really really hope they affect other people like they affected me.

And that is a magical reminder of why I do what I do. If I can reach just one person in such a powerful manner, I’ve accomplished something wonderful. That’s also why it meant so much to me when The Culling was recently named an American Library Association Rainbow List Top Ten Selection.

Eileen: Have you experienced any roadblocks getting published? Or has it been fairly smooth sailing?

Steven: I’ve definitely experienced obstacles on my road to publication. I actually had an agent put in writing that while she loved my book, she was going to have to pass because the market for YA books is heterosexual females and no one would want to read a book about a male protagonist, especially a gay male protagonist. To say I was crushed would be a grave understatement. This wasn’t a rejection of the quality of my writing, which I could improve if need be. This was far more insidious. It was a rejection of my being. Basically, the message was, no matter how good my writing was, no one was ever going to be interested if I wrote about a particular type of teen.

If I wrote about people like me.

Eileen: What are you working on now?

Steven: I’m actually working on finishing the concluding novel in The Torch Keeper series! My goal is to finish it by the end of summer. I’ve already written the ending, which I pretty much envisioned while writing The Culling. I can’t say too much about it, but rest assured like The Culling and The Sowing, the title of Book 3 will also end in ING. (Hint: It’s NOT “The Reaping!”) I’ve also started work on an entirely new novel that is more in the horror genre and will once again feature a diverse cast.

Steven dos Santos

Steven dos Santos

If readers would like to contact me, they can do so at:

Join The Torch Keeper Fan Forums at:

And they can find my books at:

Goodreads: The Culling

Goodreads: The Sowing

Amazon: The Culling

Amazon: The Sowing