Reviewed by Jowana Bueser
WHAT IF IT’S US
By Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
448 pages. HarperTeen.
Vestigiality is the retention of certain structures or traits that have lost its original functions during the evolutionary process. Consider the goose bumps, a human reflex exhibited under stress or fear. Our hairy ancestors used to raise their body hair to make their appearances look larger to scare off predators. Nowadays, goose bumps, as a defense mechanism is, honestly, useless. I’d like to posit another vestigial trait: listening to the universe. Ancient civilizations practically acquiesced to their accumulated lore of the celestial bodies to shape their agricultural calendars, political structures, and beliefs and rituals. Is this a possible reason why most of us are inclined to assume or accuse the universe of conspiring for or against us? I have no time to test my theory but it is sometimes satisfying to blame the quirks of evolution for our foibles.
In this regard, it is quite safe to say, no other human aspect has the perceived machinations of the universe been mercilessly blamed than in romantic relationships. It is as if the gravitational pull of the planets is responsible for our inability to land a respectable date. I guess the smallness of our existence has earned us the right to assume there are cosmic forces responsible for finding the right person in a planet inhabited by 7.7 billion humans. Yes, all great love affairs begin with the “meet cute”. No one does meet cutes better than contemporary young adult romances. So the first collaboration of superstar authors Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera will surely include an elite tier meet cute hall of fame.
Picture this: one summer day in a New York post office, the bewildering yet silly sight of twin hipsters in matching rompers, handlebar mustaches, and man buns steered two boys on a journey of joys and heartaches.
So begins the story of Arthur Seuss and Ben Alejo – the former, still building up self-confidence and the latter, picking up pieces of a broken heart. Told from the perspectives of both protagonists in alternating chapters, readers will witness a delightful name chase, a series of first dates, a string of doubts and misunderstandings, and finally, an ending of endless possibilities. Expect the authors to hit all the right notes as they orchestrate a seemingly light yet quietly provocative story.
Reality pops up at the proper moment to remind us that the story is not all “floating rainbows while drinking Skittle smoothies”. As the book puts it, “eventually you realize the unicorn was just a horse in costume and now you have cavities.” There is much restraint to keep the tone as blithe as possible but this does not mean the story sidestepped serious issues. The lead characters come from different backgrounds but the authors refused to hammer on their social differences. Instead, it is peppered with achingly quiet observations and punctuated with heart-dropping one-liners. I dare you not to let out a sigh the moment Ben wondered “how to win as many smiles from him as possible”. Of course a relationship like theirs will meet resistance, maybe not from their families and friends, but certainly from the intolerant corner of society. In one of the chapters, a character recognized that the same world that brought them together is also scaring them apart. Lightheartedness is not necessarily a fluff of clouds because in the hands of skilled writers, a fluff of cloud hides lightning jolts of reality.
Essentially, the story is about making a relationship happen and keeping it functional. Fine, credit meet cutes on cosmic influences but once things are in place, it is all up to us. Work is pragmatic and easily the least romantic part of any relationship. But as the characters found out, you have to fight hard every single day to keep it from falling apart because humans are a complicated mess. Humans are complicated because inside all of us is a universe of innumerable secrets, unfulfilled desires, and a terrible capacity to cause pain.
I consciously tried not to use LGBT+ romance to describe the book. It is. No doubt, it is. But I needed to underscore the fact that at the center of all relationships is a pair of hearts capable of suffering and happiness no matter the gender.
What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online.
Jowana applied as a research assistant for Hogwarts but was rejected because her natural sarcasm is considered a form of dark arts. She has since harnessed her powers working as a social media manager for almost a decade. Books keep her calm from the madness and the sameness of life. You can find her on Twitter @jowanabueser.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]