GUEST WRITER BEN DOWLING RECOMMENDS WHAT IF IT’S US BY ADAM SILVERA AND BECKY ALBERTALLI
As the YA cannon increasingly expands its scope to include representation of young LGBTQIA2S+ readers, What If It’s Us, written as a collaboration between Adam Silvera (They Both Die at the End) and Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) does a wonderful job of focusing on the excitement and tension of young love, but through the experience of two teenage boys, rather than the heteronormative experiences that have long filled the shelves of young romance.
As many fans of hit Canadian Comedy Schitt’s Creek will know, one of the key factors that makes that comedy so refreshing is how gay/queer characters live their lives and loves without facing the barrier of homophobia and discrimination – while such themes are incredibly important for readers outside of that community to self-educate (Dashka Slater’s 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives) LGBTQIA2S+ students who I have taught have often said to me that they wish they could see their own lives reflected as both positive and as normal as those of the boy and girl firing Snaps back and forth in the front row.
Arthur: white, wealthy and in a position of considerable privilege has a chance encounter with Ben, who comes from a working-class Puerto Rican background and what follows for a good chunk of the narrative is the cat-and-mouse game that ensues as they try to chase each other down. But once they do, a more complex tale emerges as these two young men, try to navigate the challenges of relationship that has a ‘use by’ date stamped on it.
In addition to the pitfalls of young love, Arthur and Ben, though both hailing from equally loving and accepting families, they do differ in their socioeconomic circumstances and in their ethnic backgrounds. The conflicts that arise from these differences, including microaggressions that many identifying students will recognize and empathize with – including many from the otherwise deeply empathetic Arthur.
The story alternates between both Arthur and Ben’s perspective which works very well – the young reader who has experiences with those tricky first relationships will identify with Ben’s trials as he tries to pacify, patiently and gently, the previously boyfriend-less, Arthur’s jealousies and paranoia, of which many young teens will identify their own fears mirrored back to them.
A real must for every high school ELA shelf.
Benjamin Dowling is a G9/10 ELA teacher at Fredericton High School.