Representation really does matter. When I was a gay teenager, I was firmly in the closet and terrified to come out. I was fifteen years old when Ellen Degeneres came out on her sitcom. Instead of feeling elated, I was terrified. If I showed interest in the story, would people identify me? If I ignored the story, would it look fake, leading me to being identified as gay? Mostly, I was afraid because I saw the backlash: the cruel comments people made about the story as well as the way Ellen’s sitcom was canceled after one more season, having been deemed “too gay.” And even though Ellen’s coming out didn’t go so well in the short term, it did (at least indirectly) lead to the greenlighting of Will and Grace a year later.
Point being: I am part of the last generation of gay men who grew up scared, feeling alone, and without representation. When I think of how much progress has been made in the twenty years since Ellen came out, I feel humbled. When I walk into a book store and find a book like What If It’s Us, I can’t help but feel overjoyed that no one will have to grow up feeling the way I did anymore.
So don’t get me wrong about this part: I love that What If It’s Us is a thing that exists today. I wish I’d had it when I was a teenager.
It’s basically a full-on romantic comedy in YA novel form about Arthur, a Georgia boy who recently came out before relocating to NYC for the summer, and Ben, a hardened and jaded New Yorker whose first serious relationship just ended. Arthur believes in love and fate and the universe, but Ben has been burned and isn’t so into those notions anymore. They meet-cute in a post office before getting separated by a flash mob engagement–leaving the reader to ponder whether or not the universe will put them back together and whether or not they’ll be able to work things out.
Maybe I’m just a total Ben about this book, but it felt super cheesy to me. Like eating too much of a very sugary dessert and feeling guilty afterwards. I do think that if I was still in the YA age bracket, I might feel differently, but here we are. I haven’t been in that bracket since Will and Grace was on the air the first time.
So here’s the deal: if you’re an LGBTQ teenager, go ahead and read this. If you love romantic comedies, this book is basically written for you. If you feel jaded about the notion of fate, maybe give this one a pass.