What’s new, everybody? If you’ve been keeping up with this blog for a while, you probably remember that I included a favorite book of mine in the June 2021 post, “My 2 Cents on Five Queer Must-Reads for Young Adults”: 2018’s What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Kate in Waiting) and Adam Silvera (Infinity Son, They Both Die at the End). It chronicles the NYC-set teenage romance that sparks between Ben Alejo, a Puerto Rican Catholic who’s been setting aside time to write a fantasy novel, and Arthur Seuss, a Jewish virgin and Broadway nerd with ADHD who’s flown up from the South to the Big Apple for a summer internship while his lawyer mother hunkers down on a major case.
Now, over three years after the release of What If It’s Us, the Albertalli-Silvera dream team has finally followed it up with Here’s to Us. It reunites us with Ben and Arthur two years after the whirlwind romance that ended with the two of them breaking up and heading off to college while remaining long-distance friends and getting up the hopes of us readers by possibly, conceivably, maybe leaving the door open for them to get back together. Like its predecessor, Here’s to Us brims with ridiculously high amounts of heart and wit as Arthur returns to New York for yet another summer internship—this time, to intern for the assistant of a queer off-Broadway theater director. It isn’t as if he and Ben, who have drifted apart lately, are immediately keen to catch up and reminisce on old times, though. Arthur has been going steady with classmate Mikey; Ben is dating his creative-writing classmate Mario, who’s been teaching him Spanish and encouraging him to get in touch with his Puerto Rican roots, though they haven’t put an official label on their relationship yet. Of course, it’s inevitable for the two boys to find their way back to each other once they’re both in the city, fumble through the initial tension and nervousness hanging in the air between them, and reestablish their bond enough to start wondering if the universe is nudging them back together for a good reason.
Oh, how delightful it was to dive back into the What If It’s Us world! I couldn’t get enough of the boys and their touching story in the first book, and it left me rooting for them to gravitate back towards each other after the open-ended conclusion. Now we’ve got Here’s to Us, which, like the first book, switches between the dual POVs of its leads, with Albertalli writing Arthur’s and Silvera penning Ben’s. Despite the two coauthors having somewhat different writing styles, they mesh together quite effectively rather than coming off as a discordant combo. This bolsters the acute cleverness and heartwarming emotion that comprises the core of the series, especially as Here’s to Us demonstrates how much Ben and Arthur have developed over the span of two years while also showing the ways in which their intrinsic characters have remained the same. They’re each continuing to grapple with their anxieties, reach for their artistic dreams, and figure out their evolving and sometimes perplexing relationships with each other and their loved ones. At the same time, we’re also able to see the ways in which their intrinsic characters have remained the same as they come of age, which I found to be equally authentic and rewarding.
It isn’t only the two MCs who undergo personal growth. Without giving away spoilers, some life-changing events unfold in the lives of their old buddies, getting us further invested in this world and making it feel even more lived-in. Ben’s pal Dylan is a particular standout in the lovable supporting cast, what with his personality being so, as they call him a few times, “extra.” I laughed out loud several times at his hilariously offbeat dialogue, which fits with the quippy banter that Albertalli and Silvera have injected into the series. In addition, Mario and Mikey are compelling elements of their respective partners’ lives. They could have been one-note love interests who would make it easy for us to want Ben and Arthur to dump them and rekindle their romance together, but the coauthors flesh them out with their own strengths and flaws, adding layers to the interrelationships at play.
While a part of me wishes a couple threads could have been left stretching onward so that a standalone sequel could pick them back up, I’m generally satisfied with the nice and tidy epilogue that closes the book on Here’s to Us. If you haven’t consumed this duology yet and you’re considering jumping into the sequel first, I insist on reading the books in order. Sure, Here’s To Us offers just enough background info to catch newcomers up to speed, but why deprive yourself of the swoon-worthy pleasure you’ll feel from What If It’s Us? Really, just pick that up first, then move on to the gigantic charmbasket that is Here’s to Us.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 93/100