Friday, August 31, 2012

Young Adult Fiction: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

I have come back to the young adult genre with Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler's The Future of Us. This is another book I found out about thanks to BookPeople, Austin's independent bookseller. It doesn't take much for me to get interested in YA fiction that doesn't involve vampires or anything paranormal, but then the issue becomes whether or not the book can deliver. YA fiction has become a fast growing genre, so it is nice to be able to pick out the stars from the crowd.

The Situation: Emma has just received a new computer from her father, and Josh, her next-door neighbor and childhood best friend, just received a free trial cd of AOL in the mail. Yeah, I snickered a little bit too when I read that part...remember those? This book is set in 1996, so it isn't like it is out of place or anything. But still, I found it funny. Anyway, Emma loads AOL onto her computer, creates an email address, and then her Facebook news feed pops up on the screen. Of course, the obvious issue is that Facebook hasn't been invented yet. So whose picture is that on the profile of "Emma Nelson Jones?" Well, it is Emma alright, but she is 15 years older. Just by uploading one of those free trial CDs that was handed out like candy back in the day, Emma and Josh now have the ability to see themselves, and almost everyone they know, 15 years in the future. One status update at a time.

The Problem: Emma is not okay with what she sees and wants desperately to change it. But I think we can all remember the #1 rule of time travel, and Emma can too. But that doesn't stop her. And her attempts to alter what she sees in her own future affect more than just her, and when Josh realizes his own future can change with every change she makes for herself, their already tense relationship starts fading even faster. Oh yeah, before Emma shares her little discovery with Josh, they aren't exactly on the best of terms. And time travel isn't going to heal what happened in the past. As if trying to survive high school in the present wasn't hard enough, now Josh and Emma are worried about how their choices now affect their lives in 15 years. Ah Facebook...causing relationship issues before you're even invented...

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that deals with the issue of how our choices today, even seemingly minor ones, affect our distant future. I have been using the phrase "time travel" throughout this post when really that isn't entirely accurate when talking about this book, it is just the best way I can think to explain it. The internet and Facebook serve more in a crystal ball function than for actual time travel, as the characters never move from present day, but can see 15 years into the future. And since it is set in 1996, there is ample mention of bands that were popular at the time, mix tapes, VHS, shows running in prime time that have been off the air for years, etc. Oh yeah, and AOL free trial CDs, of course. Then there is the confusion over Facebook and how it works, and how Emma can only check it at certain times since she is using dial-up and can't tie up the phone. Now THAT takes me back.

Also, because we are dealing with teenagers here, there is plenty of high school drama. And I don't know if I related more to it in this book than I have in other young adult novels simply because I started high school in 1996, and therefore know what it is like to have to tape my favorite shows using a VCR, or if Asher and Mackler were just able to convey the drama really well. I wouldn't discount either theory.

My Verdict: Unfortunately, because the drama was conveyed so well, I felt myself to be mildly uncomfortable for the majority of this book. It pretty much reminded me (not that I've really forgotten) exactly how much I hated high school. And what made it even more irritating is that most of my discomfort came from Emma. Talk about selfish! And I get it...her parents are divorced and mom is on marriage #3 while dad has moved half a country away with his new family...I get it. But at some point you have to stop taking your pain and anger out on everyone else and stop screwing with others to serve your own needs. And while Emma is a hot mess, Josh is almost way too grounded for a teenage boy. He often has to play the victim to Emma's crazy, and still manages to remain pretty gracious, which I think is somewhat unrealistic for a 16 year-old boy, but I still enjoyed his character.

And I keep having to say this with these contemporary novels, but Asher and Mackler may have written themselves into a corner. The ending is pretty weak in my opinion, and I felt like they really didn't know how to resolve the whole Facebook issue. It probably would have taken another good 50 pages or so to get everything resolved, but instead it feels like the book is just cut short and it ends, leaving the reader hanging on a few unresolved issues.

Favorite Moment: SPOILER ALERT! Skip down to the next section if you don't want to read a spoiler! My favorite moments were whenever Emma would attempt to change her future and actually end up making it worse, because her motives are almost purely selfish.

Favorite Character: Josh. A little unrealistic maybe, but if there were guys like him at my high school I probably would have liked it a little better, but probably not by much.

Recommended Reading: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Now this book deals more with time travel and not mere seeing into the future or the past.

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