Wednesday, January 19, 2022

‘Here’s to Us’ Review: Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera Bring a Do-Over as Endearing as Its Predecessor

Three years ago, Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera captured readers’ hearts with Arthur and Ben’s whirlwind summer romance in What If It’s Us (WIIU). Now, the authors revisit Arthur and Ben’s story in an equally charming sequel: Here’s to Us. The sequel sees Ben and Arthur reunite two years after WIIU. Ben still lives in New York. He works part-time and is enrolled in college. He’s made headway with his novel, but still, he feels stuck. Ben’s one bright spot? His sort-of (but not really) boyfriend Mario.

Arthur, meanwhile, returns to New York for his dream Broadway job … well, he gets as close as interning for an off-Broadway show brings him. The only downside is that he has to spend the summer away from his definitely boyfriend, Mikey. So, when Ben comes back into his life, he’s fine (totally, completely fine). Besides, Ben is happy, too. Right? But even so, the universe seems to have other plans.

As Here’s to Us is a time jump, Albertalli and Silvera acquaint readers with characters new and old. First, Dylan is still very much the blissfully chaotic best friend that charmed readers in WIIU. While he holds fast to his familiar personality, he also has the opportunity to mature in his own way. Readers don’t ever really get a full sense of what occurs in Dylan’s brain (as the book is written in first person). However, it doesn’t hinder his growth in any way. In fact, I found myself swelling with pride for Dylan by the end of the book. Meanwhile, readers meet new characters Mario and Mikey, Ben and Arthur’s almost boyfriend and boyfriend, respectively. Both Mario and Mikey are wonderful complements to their other halves. But they also serve as interesting obstacles for everyone itching to see Ben and Arthur pick up where they left off. Whether they’re unintentionally fueling jealousy or playing it totally cool hanging with their SO’s ex, Mario and Mikey are welcome additions.

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The book’s secondary characters offer a lot to appreciate. But the two characters truly at the heart (of course) are Arthur and Ben. Returning to these characters felt like reuniting with old friends. For Arthur and Ben, a reunion means confronting feelings that maybe never really went away. What Albertalli and Silvera do so well in this book is tackling every big feeling abandoned in the wake of Arthur and Ben’s breakup in WIIU plus the distance. From the beginning of the book, readers sense that lingering yearning both try not to overthink. How could they miss each other when they both have new romantic pursuits? In turn, Arthur and Ben’s relationships with Mikey and Mario inform how the two went from talking every day to letting the chasm between them widen.

Though the story is steeped in Ben and Arthur’s history and general underlying romance, I found that Here’s to Us is just as much about platonic love as it is romantic, as well as the aforementioned swirl of feelings. Ben and Arthur both struggle to name their relationship with each other. There’s still that bittersweet aching that bursts with what ifs. Moreover, Arthur and Ben want (and need) to rebuild a friendship they never fully got to establish. Seeing each other happy with their partners reinforces every insecurity and every ounce of regret they couldn’t work through or are terrified to face because they don’t want to hurt anyone. Nevertheless, they try. They begin to take accountability. And this time around, readers really see how those feelings affect the pair and how they learn and bloom from the experience.

In every book, authors put a little of themselves into their characters. Albertalli and Silvera did so in WIIU, and, naturally, they do in Here’s to Us. The difference, however, is that their voices shine through so prominently this time around. There’s a sense of growth that’s imbued not only with their protagonists, but also themselves. Readers still recognize the characters they grew to love. This time, the maturation of Arthur and Ben is palpable. It settles into the deepest parts of readers. While WIIU provides a sweet story, Here’s to Us allows readers to gain a greater sense of its evolution.

I’m not gonna lie, the wait for Here’s to Us was excruciating. But it was fully worth it. Albertalli and Silvera only reiterate that they truly are the dynamic duo. Albertalli’s light-hearted, optimistic style and Silvera’s wrenching and slightly more cynical method continue to perfectly blend. They boldly pour their hearts out through Arthur and Ben, bringing a messy, humorous, heartbreaking, romantic, and joyful story to the table. They’ll have even the prickliest of readers thinking that maybe what the universe has in store isn’t all that bad after all. And they show readers how a sequel is done. So, here’s to do-overs. Here’s to Arthur and Ben.

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Here’s to Us releases December 28. Pre-order your copy here.

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