Book Review: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long – at least, up until last November, when Josh did something that changed everything. Things have been weird between them ever since, but when Josh’s family gets a free AOL CD in the mail,his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they’re automatically logged onto their Facebook pages. But Facebook hasn’t been invented yet. And they’re looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.
By refreshing their pages, they learn that making different decisions now will affect the outcome of their lives later. And as they grapple with the ups and downs of what their futures hold, they’re forced to confront what they’re doing right – and wrong – in the present.
I saw this book in the grocery store a while ago, but I wasn’t really interested in it at the time. Now, months later, I’ve read and loved a book by each of the authors (Thirteen Reasons Why and The Earth, My But, and Other Big Round Things), and I realized I had to read this book simply because I loved the other two books I read by these authors (separately). I was sure that a book written by the two of them would be fantastic.
I was wrong.
I didn’t completely hate this book. The characters were rather shallow and obsessed with members of the opposite gender, yes, but they’re sixteen year olds. I’m not saying there aren’t really mature sixteen year olds out there, but I’ve only been out of high school for five years. The majority of teenagers are obsessed with boys/girls and partying, and that’s what the majority of the teenagers in this book were. I found the side characters – Kellan, Tyson, and Sydney – rather interesting, and I was sorry that we didn’t get to see more of how their plot lines were resolved. One of the pieces of information Emma learned about Kellan halfway through the book was one of the main reasons I kept reading, and I was disappointed that we didn’t get to learn what happens to Kellan.
I was also disappointed with the main characters. Josh is in love with his best friend, who rejects him because she doesn’t want to ruin the friendship. That plot is hardly original, but in other circumstances it could have worked. I think I just didn’t really like Emma. I didn’t really know enough about her in the beginning to have her “big realization” at the end really mean anything. Her father left and started a new family, and his new baby daughter is apparently having health problems. Had these issues really been brought up in the beginning of the novel and been a recurring theme, maybe I would have cared about Emma more. She’s been hurt by her father and is worried about her sister and therefore doesn’t allow guys to get close to her. That I could have understood, but we don’t learn most of that information until the end of the book, and by that point it’s really too late.
The characters weren’t my only problem, though. The setting was a huge distraction. One of the reasons this book sounded interesting to me was because it was set in 1996, and the characters were somehow able to use Facebook. I may have been sort of young in the 90s (having been born in ’89), but I still have memories of the 90s, and I was looking forward to seeing how the time period played a part in the novel. However, it didn’t really work like I hoped it would. Maybe it’s just me, but the references seemed a bit too deliberate and not at all natural. At one point one of the characters actually refers to Gore as “Vice President Gore.” Again, maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never heard anyone ever refer to the vice president in such a way unless they were on TV or talking to the VP. I mean, I can’t imagine saying “Vice President Biden,” and I sure as hell never said “Vice President Cheney.” That was just the most obvious example, the one that stood out the most to me. The other references sort of fit with the story most of the time, but it seemed like the authors went out of their way to make them relevant sometimes, and it was rather distracting.
I think the biggest problem for me, though, was the lack of plot. I’m all for literary fiction and character-driven novels, but I still have to be waiting for something. Sometimes really interesting characters can make up for a lack of interesting plot, but in those cases I have to be interested in the characters, and I wasn’t really. I just spent most of the book watching Emma try to find her dream husband and wondering when something interesting was going to happen. The only parts that actually interested me (the information we learn about Kellan and David) never really went anywhere. I guess I was just hoping that the ending would make the whole experience worth it, and it didn’t do that.
Overall, I’m not entirely unhappy that I read this book. It taught me a lesson about what to include in my own novels, which was helpful. I also didn’t find the entire thing miserable to read. I may not have actively enjoyed most of it, but I didn’t completely hate it, either. It was entertaining enough, though it’s not really a book I would recommend to others. I just hope that others don’t judge these authors’ other work by this one.