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“The Future of Us” by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Finally done with summer reading at our library. Woot!

So I read "The Future of Us," which I obtained as an ARC at Book Expo, way back in June. I'm only able to review it now because, folks, summer is a busy time at your local public library. Don't get me wrong! That's actually a good thing. But it does tend to push everything else aside for a few months. Now, onto the review …

In the simplest terms possible, I was underwhelmed by this novel. Jay Asher wrote the phenomenal, deeply touching "Thirteen Reasons Why," while co-author Carolyn Mackler is responsible for witty, heartwarming books like "Vegan Virgin Valentine." Pairing up these two fab authors seems like a sure thing, right? Throw in a cool, time-traveling / destiny concept and this book should be an absolute joy to read. Except? It's kinda not. It's enjoyable enough and certainly not terrible. But it was also nothing special, and, believe me, I wish that wasn't true.

As I mentioned, the setup is genius. It's 1996, and Emma and Josh are next door neighbors and former BFFs. Emma is smart and athletic, but also sort of bossy and emotionally shut down, keeping her boyfriend at arms length and cutting off the vulnerable parts of herself. Josh is one of those dorky / sweet guys who tend to populate YA fiction. He's a skater with a self-deprecating sense of humor and a keen awareness of how low he sits on the high school totem pole. When Emma gets a new computer, complete with one of those AOL cd-roms that, for real, used to be everywhere, she doesn't just get an Internet connection. Through some funky mojo, Emma is able to log onto a crazy site called Facebook (!), where older versions of she and Josh post random musings about their lives. Despite their estrangement, Emma lets Josh in on the secret, and the two quickly realize that their actions in 1996 affect their future selves. Seemingly harmless events as teenagers lead to cataclysmic Facebook updates in 2011 involving spouses, occupations, and overall levels of happiness.

It's a neat concept, which should open up all sorts of clever avenues to explore the "butterfly effect." Can a chance encounter with a popular girl or a hook up with a dreamy track star really affect who you become? Can a fight with your best friend truly make you unbearably miserable 15 years down the road? These intriguing questions about fate and our role in our own destiny are raised, swept away, and never fully explored. Emma wants to change an unappealing future, regardless of the consequences, while Josh takes bold steps in the present to secure what looks like a fabulous future life. And that's all that happens in the plot. Eventually, after some mishaps, we get a pat resolution about living in the moment and letting the future evolve on its own. Eh. Even worse, I felt the internal logic here was shaky. If an action or inaction has fixed, finite consequences 15 years from now … well, doesn't the same apply to what we do 5 or 10 years from now, too? How could the kids ever be sure that their future lives were statically, perfectly preserved by happenings in 1996? Will they never do anything again to alter their destinies? Doesn't this contradict the very foundation of the butterfly effect theory?

Aside from a lackluster execution of the core concept, I also found some of the characters to be a bit flat. Kellan and Tyson, Emma and Josh's bickering friends, seem like nothing more than comic relief. Cody, Emma's perfect jock crush, never becomes more than the arrogant, slick cheeseball he first appears to be. Even Emma, who is so controlled and closed off, doesn't really leap off the page; when she inevitably realizes her buried feelings for Josh, I felt rather blah about the whole development. So while there are some nice moments here of heart and humor, I never felt connected enough to care as much as I should have.

I'm sorry! I wanted to love this book and, despite some cute 90s references, a handful of sweet scenes, and plenty of snarky humor, I just didn't. But I didn't hate it, either. It's perfectly pleasant and readable … and, well, forgettable. Sigh. "The Future of Us" will be released in November 2011. To see what others think, check out more info and reviews on this book at Good Reads.

PS – I hope you like "The Future of Us" much more than I did!

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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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“Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

One quick disclaimer before I launch into my rave review of Jay Asher's "Thirteen Reasons Why": I listened to the audiobook version, which is performed with compelling depth and emotion by Joel Johnstone and Debra Wiseman. While I think the text alone should make a fantastic read, the audiobook brings it up to a whole other level, as we get to hear the sad, increasingly desperate voice of suicide victim Hannah Baker.

Yes, as stated in the preceding sentence, high school student Hannah Baker is dead as the novel begins. Her suicide, shrouded in mystery and rumor — as her life often was — has devastated her sort-of-friend and one-time hookup Clay Jensen. As the novel opens, Clay has received a mail package with no return address. Inside, he finds a set of cassette tapes (think 80s-style Walkman) recorded by Hannah in the time before her death. Hannah has directed one side of each tape (13 in total) to a friend, classmate, or enemy who in some way contributed to her emotional destruction. Clay listens to the tapes through his headphones as he retraces Hannah's last steps, visiting the home of a peeping tom, the local coffeehouse and diner, and the site of a climactic party. As each tape passes, Clay is increasingly horrified to discover that the most popular girl in class, the cheerleader, and the guy who is everyone's friend have committed awful — or at the very least terribly mean-spirited — acts upon Hannah. At the same time, Clay keeps searching his memory for the instance when he, too, wronged Hannah. Clay is confused, because he genuinely cannot recall feeling anything for Hannah but longing, affection, and, finally, sorrow.

At first, I thought Hannah's voice from beyond the grave, and her insistence that the tapes' recipients retrace her steps, keep her secrets, and pass her package along to the next person, smacked of an ugly vindictiveness. But as Hannah's heartbreaks become clear, as the awful toll of each misery, ill-founded rumor, and broken friendship pile up, I lost any sense of animosity toward her character. Instead, I felt much like Clay, wanting only to reach through those tapes and somehow stop this sad, broken girl from completely destroying herself.

I won't say too much else about the plot, because it's important to follow Hannah's story of betrayal in the order in which she presents it. As I mentioned, it's the impact of all those actions, the sum total upon Hannah's psyche, that makes this book so devastating. I think as soon as you start reading, you'll be hooked. Even knowing in advance that Hannah is dead, this gripping novel is full of suspense. It also works great as a discussion book, as "Thirteen Reasons Why" raises lots of complex issues like the effects of teen gossip, self-destructive sexual behavior, loneliness, and, of course, suicide. Since many of these topics are a bit sensitive for younger readers, I'd say this one is targeted squarely at high school age folks. I don't think you'll be disappointed. Truly, this is one of the best books I've read in the past year, and it deserves every bit of praise I can heap upon it.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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