Sunday, December 4, 2011

Current Historical Fiction: The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Razorbill, 2011

Carolyn Mackler  (The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things) and Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) capture the spirit of 1990s in their new collaborative novel The Future of Us. The premise is one that is so simple, yet these writers expand the subtleties of the situation in such a way that older readers who remember the 90's will find themselves reminiscing about the past while younger readers my find themselves contemplating what their futures may look like in 15 years.

Meet Emily and Josh, two teenagers in 1996, who already have enough on their plates. Emily is dealing with her mother's latest marriage, her dad's new family, a boyfriend she doesn't really like all that much, and the fact that she hasn't really talked to Josh since last fall when things very suddenly got really weird. Josh is trying to figure out where he went wrong with his friendship with Emily, his overbearing parents, and just getting through his sophomore year with his friends. Then Emily gets a computer and Josh brings her a CD-ROM for 100 free hours of America Online (something everyone over the age of 20 no doubt remembers getting in the mail week after week). But something goes funny when Emily goes online - she's brought to a weird website called Facebook and the woman in the picture looks like an older version of her.

Suddenly the pair find themselves playing with the powerful force of time and discover that all of the choices they're making in the present seem to have a huge impact on their future lives. Emily is continually unhappy with the version of her life she's looking at and trying to change things, but Josh is at the opposite end of the spectrum and doesn't want to mess with anything too much because 1) he likes what his future looks like and 2) he wants to focus more on now.

This is a novel that readers of all ages will be able to appreciate on different levels (and, weird as it may sound right now, is being classified as historical fiction). I found myself laughing at the references to times past - dial-up, disc-mans, the music playing on the radio. Younger readers may wonder how we ever lived so primitively and it may be interesting for them to see how dealing with life, friends, and family was so much different before the technological revolution of the 2000s. (At one point, Emily goes to the library to look at phone books because there's no such thing as a search engine for that kind of data yet - how old school!) The book is also seamless in terms of story telling- while Emily and Josh (who take turns narrating) each have distinct voices and points of view, the flow of the story is never stifled by this. They fit together so well and each character leaves you considering a new point.

In the end, this novel really reaffirmed my happiness that Facebook didn't yet exist when I was in high school. I know how incredibly ironic or hypocritical it may be for me to say this on a blog (which I advertise via my Facebook account and Twitter), but the book made me long for a different time when talking to people actually meant physically speaking to an actual person. This book, like the others by these two extremely talented writers, sucked me in, made me think, and took me on a satisfactory journey as a reader from start to finish. For the social media-inclined reader in your household, this book is a must read.

Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading!

Jay Asher on Twitter
Carolyn Mackler on Twitter

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