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Book Review: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Title: The Future of Us
Author: Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler
Page Count: 356
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: YA Contemporary

Rating: 6/10

Goodreads Summary:
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.

Book 38: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Page Count: 288
F/NF: Fiction
Genre: Young adult

Rating: 9/10

Summary from goodreads:
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

I absolutely loved this book. As soon as I read the premise, I had to read the book to figure out what Hannah’s reasons for killing herself were, and from the moment I picked the book up, I couldn’t stop reading it. This was such an interesting idea for a novel, and I liked the way it switched back and forth between narratives. It’s not like most books where you read a chapter or a scene from one POV and then it switches; it switches back and forth between sentences sometimes, and the whole thing flows really nicely. I was immediately hooked, and I couldn’t stop reading until I knew all thirteen reasons.

I think this is an important book for teens to read, and if this whole become-a-high-school-English-teacher thing works out, I will definitely try to find a way to either include it in a reading list or at least have a copy on my shelf for people to read if they want. This novel shows that you can’t just assume you know what’s going on with a person based on what you’ve heard about them, and it shows how even the smallest, most insignificant things can make a huge difference in someone’s life. It also shows that you can’t let your fear rule you, that sometimes you just have to put yourself out there.

There’s a definite moral to this story (in case you couldn’t tell by the last paragraph), but I didn’t mind the lesson because it was such an interesting story, and I think we can all relate to at least one of the characters. Sure, not everyone spreads rumors or uses people, but most of us have seen someone in pain and brushed it aside. Most of us have had crushes on people and have had trouble acting on it. I think that’s part of what makes Clay such a great narrator – his biggest flaws are the ones that most of us can relate to.

I will admit, though, that as much as I loved this book and couldn’t stop reading it, I was a little let down by the ending. I guess I was just expecting the reasons to keep getting bigger as the list went on, and while that was sort of the case, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I still enjoyed the novel, but I guess I expected there to have been a bigger reason behind her wanting to kill herself. After all, she had a guy who liked her, parents who loved her…I guess I just don’t see why neither of those things balanced out the rest. It wasn’t like she was tortured every day. I guess I just wanted to finish the book and be able to say, “Yeah, I’d probably kill myself if I were in her position, too,” and I just couldn’t say that, not even a little.

That said, I still enjoyed the book. And, really, the ending that I disliked really makes it that much more of an important lesson – that it’s not just the obviously miserable people that you have to watch out for. Everyone gets sad and lost and overwhelmed. Everyone needs help sometimes. And I liked that Hannah wasn’t blameless, that part of her reason for killing herself was also guilt over what she let happen because she was afraid. She’s not completely blameless in some of the events that happened, and I think that’s part of what makes this such a compelling novel – the characters feel very real. I would definitely recommend this book for teenagers and anyone who likes a story that focuses on people and the consequences of their actions.