I was a third of the way through “What if it’s Us” when I realized that I hated it. I had picked it up expecting a cute queer romance, something I’ ve always starved for, and had read books by both authors that had scratched that itch. So, naturally, I expected something sweet. What I got instead was a story about two boys with no chemistry, who seem horrible for each other (poor Arthur has his head in the clouds while Ben is having trouble getting over his ex and has become as pessimistic as he claimed his ex was) constantly missing chances to be together.
Once they do get together it… doesn’t work. And then they break up and go their separate ways while still trying to be friends. The entire plot revolved around these two boys and the only thing we learned was that “sometimes in life, it doesn’t work out.”
It’s true, in life this happens a lot. But what is the value in telling a story about it? What makes it more interesting than every “almost” relationship nearly everyone experiences?
Why did I put down this book realizing I’d spent money on it when I figured my time would have been better spent reading fanfiction?
There’s value in realistic fiction, of course, but books are also meant to be an escape. They’re meant to make you think, to reflect, to add something to your life, to evoke an emotion. The emotion this book evoked was frustration, at the characters and myself, for I’ve been in many situations where you want things to work out but they don’t. In this case, I didn’t want a mirror. It’s not a fun reflection, or one that makes me feel represented.
“Sometimes in life, it doesn’t work out.”
Yeah, that’s cool, but I live in a life where things don’t always work out.
It is important to have more realistic relationships in Young Adult Literature? Absolutely, so that teens aren’t looking at Bella and Edward as if that’s the pinnacle of love. But I also think it’s important, especially for kids under the LGBT+ umbrella, to have hope that things do work out. That they can read a book where a boy from a small town does have that whirlwind romance in NYC so they can imagine that maybe, someday, it could happen to them too. We don’t always get fluffy stories. Many stories involving LGBT+ characters end poorly, or focus more on the “coming out” and homophobia than the romance. We deal with the homophobia regularly. We deserve more love stories that do work out, that aren’t as fraught with real life issues where it does work out.
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be so annoyed if this novel was focused on heterosexual romance. But for a queer-centered book, the message that is being put out needs to be of more importance, LGBT+ kids don’t have the same chances for love as their straight counterparts and this is something that needs to be addressed.l
PRR WRITER: Michelle LeBar