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!