Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

When I read the synopsis for The Future of Us, I felt like the book had been written for someone like me: I came of age in the 90s and hold a certain fondness for cassette tapes and dial-up Internet. Well, not a fondness for using them, but for reminiscing about them.

Its 1996, and Emma’s dad has just given her a computer. Her friend Josh has received an AOL CD-ROM in the mail with some free hours, so they get together to take a look at this new-fangled thing called the Internet. Only something strange happens. After about five hours (I exaggerate) and lots of beeping, Emma signs on to discover that a website called Facebook is in one of her “favorite places.”

I’m going to break out my shiny English degree and tell you that this is what is called “dramatic irony.” Emma and Josh don’t know what Facebook is, but we do, and therein lies the enjoyment. Facebook reveals the two teens' future lives - about 15 years in the future - to them. Emma is married to some man she hasn’t met yet, and Josh is married to the hottest girl at the school.

As Emma reads more and more of her status updates, she learns more about what Facebook is and decides that she doesn’t like the way her life turned out. So she does things in 1996 to change her life in 2011. Predictably, they backfire, and her status updates don’t really reflect a better life. Josh, on the other hand, is thrilled with how his life appears to turn out, and he’s not pleased that Emma’s choices are affecting his happy future.

The Future of Us is also a little bit of a relationship story. Josh confessed his like for Emma a little while ago, and Emma did not reciprocate, which has made things between the two friends tense. This drama is played out over Josh and Emma's shared secret of Facebook and their decisions to change - or not change - their futures. The year is firmly 1996, but this part of the story is timeless.

I really enjoyed the concept of The Future of Us, but the execution felt thin. The characters were underdeveloped and the events breezed by so quickly they barely made any impact. Everything was just a bit underdeveloped. I wanted more - more character dimensionality, more meaning, more build-up to the great revelation near the end, more everything. It seemed more like an outline for a very interesting story

I think the book might have a hard time finding an audience of teenagers. It’s pretty heavy on the nostalgia and Asher and Mackler go a little crazy with mid-90s references. Don’t get me wrong, I totally dug all of those references, but I’m not sure teens of nowadays will find them as amusing. (As a parallel, references to Betamax don’t really do it for me.) Those of you who say it will appeal to fans of historical fiction, I SCOFF AT YOU. People my age are not historical figures! Of course, my grandmother scoffs at me when I tell her I’m reading an historical novel set during World War II, so there you go.

It’s definitely going to date itself quickly. Actually, by the time it’s released next week, it will already be dated. Facebook has made some changes, as it is wont to do every few seconds. This reviewer alsohelpfully points out a few historical errors. Such errors are inevitable in a book about a bygone time, but they’re more cringe-worthy when people who lived then are still alive and not senile.

What I’m saying is, The Future of Us has some problems. That doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable book. There’s some good stuff about learning to balance your wants now with your goals for the future that should have broad appeal. And there’s that perennially popular idea about seeing – and changing – your future life that can only happen in fiction. Some teens may get a kick out of it, and it certainly won’t take them long to read. I think 20-somethings will probably enjoy it more, though.

Review copy received from publisher at BEA. The Future of Us is available November 21.

6 comments:

  1. I did not enjoy this book at all. Your review makes me WANT to enjoy it but I was so frustrated by the characters I wanted to slam their heads into a wall.

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  2. Yeah, I thought this was pretty weak as well. Some things we kinda clever, but it was a framework of a novel to me.

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  3. Thank you for lowering my expectations. Disappointment over a hyped novel makes me feel like I wasted my time reading it.

    I'll still read this book because (1) I came of age in the '90s and (2) the novel's premise is interesting enough that I want to see how it's executed (however thinly). I'm hoping The Future of Us does for me what Ready Player One does for children of the '80s. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the quest in Ready Player One even though all of the '80s nostalgia was completely lost on me.

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  4. You and I see eye to eye on this one. I enjoyed reading it because of the nostalgia factor. It was spot on in some of the references and the humor (between Asher, Mackler, and mememe!) was infectious. But character-wise? Thin. Did it change that I enjoyed the book on account of the other factors? Not at all.

    But like you, I don't think there's a teen audience for this one. It's a 20- and 30- something moment.

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  5. I am such a fan of Jay Asher's earlier book that I am sad to hear this one doesn't quite live up to 13 Reasons Why.

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  6. I agree! Fun book but not a tremendous amount of depth. It was also pretty predictable. But I enjoyed it for the fluffy entertaining read it was.

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