Thursday, December 8, 2011

REVIEW: The Future of Us

Asher, J. & Mackler, C.  (2011).  The Future of Us.  New York:  Razorbill.

356 pages.

Appetizer:  It's 1996 and Emma's father just bought her a new computer with Windows 95 to buy her love.  Josh brings her an AOL CD-Rom (100 free online hours!  OMG!!!!).  When Emma logs on for the first time, she discovers a strange website listed in the favorites bar:  Facebook.  The site seems to be devoted to a woman in her thirties with Emma's name and birthday.  The picture of the woman looks eerily like Emma.  But this woman is married, jobless and seems unhappy as she shares WAY too much personal information on the website.

Emma shares the secret of the strange 'Facebook' with her neighbor and former-best friend Josh.  As they become aware of their futures, they slowly realize that their behavior now changes who they will become.  For better or for worse.

I was really excited about The Future of Us.  Not so much because of the premise, but because I loved Asher's 13 Reasons Why and Mackler's The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things and Vegan Virgin Valentine.  Combine two awesome authors and you can't go wrong, right?  Eeeeeeeeh.  From page one, I was a little disappointed.  The first chapter from Emma's perspective felt rushed and like a long joke about the way the internet used to be.  The premise of the story just didn't feel like it would be sustainable and nothing about Emma or Josh's characterizations really sparked my interest.  They were just blah.

I did love the way the characters struggled with how the small (and big) decisions they made impacted their realities fifteen years in the future.  It's a very powerful look at the idea that there are consequences, even for some seemingly small decisions.  This is best embodied when Emma does a little addition and realizes someone close to her may conceive a child within the next few months.  There's a wonderful analysis on choices and consequences waiting to be written about this book (and there's even a cross-curriculum connection to the concept of the domino effect during the Vietnam War).

Without being too preachy, The Future of Us could cause some readers to think a little more critically about their online relationships and behaviors, but mostly I think readers will pick it up as a fun read (a fun read without nearly the oomph that Thirteen Reason Why had).

*Spoiler*  *Spoiler*  *Spoiler for the end*  *Spoiler*  *Spoiler*

I did have some trouble with Emma as a character.  From the beginning of the book I "nothing-ed" her, but about midway through the book, I actively started to dislike her.  I really didn't like the way she jumped from guy to guy in the present and kept playing with her future as though it was a game, judging each potential husband as though they were the cause of all her potential unhappiness.  (There's a little consideration of finding the right career or school, but not enough.)  Eventually, Emma did have a grand realization about her nature:

"I stroll through the grounds, thinking about how ever since we discovered Facebook, I've been changing specific things in an attempt to improve my future.  Jordan Jones was probably cheating on me...But every time I got a new future, I still turned out unhappy. 
For the past five days, I've been trying to understand why this happens to me and how I can tweak things so it won't happen again.  But I'm starting to wonder if it actually has nothing to do with the future.  Maybe it has everything to do with what happens now.
...He never did those things for me because I never gave him the chance.  I never told him what I was reading or what movies made me cry.  I kept enough distance so I would never get hurt.
I've always protected myself when it comes to love.  And maybe that's the problem.  By not letting myself get hurt now, it ripples into much bigger pain later on.  In the future, maybe I never let my husbands see the real me either, so, I never give them the chance to learn what makes me happy." (p. 313-314)
Okay, I'll take that.  It's about time.  This girl needed to be single for awhile.  Heal from your mom's repeated divorces.  Love yourself first girlie, then consider adding a worthy boyfriend into the mix.  Sounds good.  Finally, maybe Emma will be redeemed in my mind.  But hey, that's my crazy feminist perspective.

Of course, fewer than 40 pages later, AKA the same night in the story, Emma gets herself a new man.

Mmm, kay.  Yes, relationships do have to go both ways, okay.  And yes, you do have to take a chance on the right person and be willing to be vulnerable.  But I felt like this girl still needed to figure out who she was and what she wanted first.  By this point, I wasn't convinced this character had much of a soul of her own, let alone one she could share with someone she loved.

*End spoiler*

Dinner Conversation:

"I can't break up with Graham today, even though I told my friends I'd do it the next time I saw him.  So instead, I'm hiding in my bedroom, setting up my new computer while he plays Ultimate Frisbee in the park across the street" (p. 2).

"For about twenty second, my monitor freezes.  Then the white box snaps into a tiny blue dot and a new webpage fades in.  It has a blue banner running across the top that says "Facebook."  A column down the center of the screen is labeled "News Feed" and under that are tiny photos of people I don't recognize.  Each photo is followed by a brief statement.
...I circle the mouse around the screen, confused by the jumble of pictures and words.  I have no idea what any of this means, "Status" and "Friend Request" and "Poke." (pp. 9-10)

"One side of my brain whispers that this could be a website from the future.  The other side of my brain screams at the first side for being an idiot.
On the screen, Emma Nelson Jones, with slight creases at the corners of her eyes, is smiling." (p. 15)

"If it was a prank, nothing would've changed between yesterday and today.  But everything I did differently today sent little ripples of change into the future.  Being in a bad mood this morning, because of this, changed the way I interacted with people when I got to school.  And that, fifteen years down the line--"
I laugh.  "Ripples of change?"
"It's something Kellan told me."
"You told Kellan?"
"Of course not," Emma says.  "I just asked her about time travel from a physics perspective."  (p. 76)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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