“Idealism & Self-Esteem – A Review on Character Elements in ‘What If It’s Us’ by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silver” by Benjamin Gallagher
Welcome to my first book review! This essay discusses character elements such as idealism and self-esteem and will contain spoilers. This review does not contain a star or point rating. Instead, I thought to review the story’s relatable aspects. If you like this, or if you don’t like this, please leave a thoughtful comment below! Please enjoy!
In “What If It’s Us” by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, two teenage boys fall in love. Arthur Seuss, an excitable young man, interns at his mother’s law firm in New York City. His trip to the post office becomes a journey to find local heartthrob, Benito Alejo (AKA Ben). The protagonists take turns telling the story. Albetalli writes from Arthur’s point of view while Silvera writes from Ben’s. This switch between characters helps the reader decide whether or not they can trust each other by the end of the novel.
The book is split into four sections: “What If”, “It’s Us”, “And Only Us”, and the Epilogue. Arthur’s optimism for love charges the first section with youthful energy. Ben’s insecurities about self-worth create tension in the second part. Then in the third, the characters must confront their idealism and low self-esteem if they want to stay together.
“I’m pretty sure this is fate. Like we were meant to meet, meant to lose each other, and meant to find each other all over again,” Arthur says to himself (p.140).
I remember feeling this way about my first love. Everything from the clouds to the number thirteen seems like a signal. This other person and I need to meet. Only then will the daydreams cease inside my head.
Arthur also imagines romantic scenarios with Ben. This obsession creates idealistic values about love that will challenge the character in part two. No one is perfect. The recognition of this truth depends on his decision to forgive Ben. Whether or not the boys stay together, Arthur’s growth becomes apparent by the end of the novel.
“My heart is racing because I feel like such a loser now. Like I’m always going to be fighting some uphill battle to make a place for myself in this world. Like why bother if I’m not some rich valedictorian,” Ben says to himself (p. 206).
Thoughts like this haunt me every day. They overshadow elements of self-worth. I belittle my talents, such as writing a book review, in favor of other people’s financial status. Why? Because success often measures itself with stacks of money.
“Oh, I sincerely hope you’re not about to say you’ve been writing the Great American Novel instead of applying for jobs. I really hope you’re not about to say that,’ Mrs. Suess says to Ben, who dismisses the comment. The prospect of becoming a “successful” artist seems inconceivable to Ben at the beginning of the novel. By the end, he finds value in a readership that starts with Arthur. This inspires me and other writers alike, hopefully, to look for a supportive community.
“And Only Us”
“But maybe this isn’t how life works. Maybe it’s all about people coming into your life for a little while and you take what they give you and use it on your next friendship or relationship. And if you’re lucky, maybe some people pop back in after you thought they were gone for good,” Ben says to himself (p 328).
This quote justifies the novel’s genre. The protagonists forgive each other but also decide to separate by the end of the novel.
Arthur admits that he should have trust Ben about Hudson. Ben confesses that his low self-esteem affects relationships. These truths bring the characters together for a bittersweet goodbye. Ben sets Arthur on a scavenger hunt back to the post office where they first met. Their appreciation for one another leaves the reader with the confidence that these two will find each other again in the future.
Arthur ends up going to college in Middletown, Connecticut. He speaks to Ben briefly about a new crush, Mikey:
“He thought Hamilton was fine, but not great. And he doesn’t like arcades! That’s weird, right?”
“Arthur, you don’t like arcades.”
“I know, but he seems like he would, and he doesn’t, and I don’t like that.” (p 426)
This shows the kind of impression Ben left on Arthur who is searching for someone genuine. Meanwhile, Ben starts posting his book on an app called Wattpadd. Arthur’s optimism about the novel inspires Ben to acknowledge his place in the world, as a writer. The characters acknowledge their own truths in a new light because of each other’s presence. This inspires Ben to wonder about their future together:
“I don’t know what we have planned for us. What if there’s a do-over down the line for us? What if we end up in the same city again and pick up where we left off? What if we go as far as we once hoped we would, and boom, happy ending for us? But what if this is it for us? What if we never get to kiss again? What if we’re there for each other’s big moments, but we aren’t at the heart of those big moments anymore? What if the universe always wanted us to meet and stay in each other’s lives forever as best friends? What if we rewrite everything we expect from happy endings?
What if we haven’t seen the best us yet?” (P. 433)
I love Ben because his internal dialogue evokes memories both old and new. I’m a twenty-nine-year-old man piecing together an identity similar to a writer’s. Books, essays, and Instagram posts rearrange themselves into a portfolio. Someday I’ll find the courage to share those experiences with people. Someday maybe those people will become friends who will celebrate my success as Benjamin Gallagher, AKA BoyKitsch.
Thank you for reading my review! Please leave a thoughtful comment below. I love feedback and am looking forward to reviewing more books. Hope to hear from you soon.
All the best,