I’m going to begin this review with a big dose of truth: I am sobbing as I try to compose an objective commentary on what I think might be one of the best young adult novels I have ever read. You should know there is no happy ever after or even happy for now to this book. Instead, there is some of the best character-driven literature to ever hit the market and a story about love that will have you feeling so incredibly warm and happy, while sad at the same time.
Two great authors in their own right, Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera have collaborated to create a beautiful coming of age and first love YA story called, What It It’s Us, and I have nothing but kudos to extend to both writers.
Arthur and his parents have traveled from Georgia to New York for the summer so that his mother can pursue a high powered case her firm is litigating. While there, Arthur, who is on the cusp of turning seventeen, interns at his mom’s law office. One day, he spies a young guy carrying a box into the post office and decides to follow him. Once there, Arthur fumbles over an introduction that sees him failing to even get said cute boy’s first name. Then circumstances intervene, causing the two young men to be pushed apart. Ben disappears and Arthur is left wondering how to ever find the guy again.
Ben was in the post office trying to mail the remnants of a breakup from the boy he thought he loved. It didn’t matter that Hudson had thought he and Ben were broken up, for that was far from the truth, and after Hudson kissed another boy, it was obvious the two of them were over. Now Ben will be trapped in summer school with Hudson and trying not to remember how painful it was that he was cheated on. Then he meets the cute, nerdy guy at the post office, but as fate always finds a way to dump on Ben, the two of them are over before they can even begin…or are they?
A note tacked to a bulletin board in a coffee shop will be the start of a summer romance that will leave Ben and Arthur irrevocably changed.
First, let me say that this is not just a story about two teenage boys falling in love. It is a masterfully written piece about a group of friends and how their lives intersect one summer, bringing heartache, healing, and hope into their lives. It will change them all in many ways—see them mature and grown, see some of them mend broken friendships and others build new ones, and through it all there will be laughter, a few tears, and so much joy. The side characters, particularly Dylan, Ben’s best friend, are critical to this story and they are as realistic as any fictional creations can be. Dylan is not only the comic relief, but also provides some rather keen observations when it comes to revealing more about Ben’s character. I so enjoyed this guy, from his ridiculous humor, to his genuine love for Ben, to his own fumbling about with how best not to treat a girlfriend.
What can I say about Ben and Arthur without gushing like a fool? Ben grows by leaps and bounds in this novel and begins to realize he is not the screwup he was so determined he had to be. Arthur battles his own ADHD and runaway mouth to discover what falling in love for the first time really means—the great highs and the very real lows that come with heartbreak and forgiveness. Do-overs became my favorite new term because of this book. But, for me, the richest part of this novel lay in the fact that these two boys had to make choices along the way that they knew would come at a great price, but did so anyway just to live each moment to the fullest. They never let go of the reality the end of the summer held for them and I loved the authors for allowing that to be up front in this story. It gave such credence and realism to the overall feel of the book and made me love it even more, even though it meant sacrificing a HEA.
What If It’s Us was so much more than a coming of age story. This was a journey of friendship and love done in such a way as to feel so very hopeful and real and that made this novel a five-star read for me. I highly recommend this story to you.