The Sorta-New Book that I Shouldn’t Have Waited to Read: The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler Reviewed by Sara Hardin
The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler
Hardcover: 356 pages
Published: November 2011
Grades: YA, 9-12
Sometimes even the nerdiest book club members fall victim to my plight: we stall on reading a book because it’s a little too popular. Unlike most book recommendations, which are valued and immediately acted on, the buzz about some books causes us to dig our heels in deeper and wait.
I’m too busy right now… I have other books higher on my priority list… I don’t like books like that… I don’t trust that person’s opinion… I’ll wait until someone I know reads it.
Or, stubbornly: I don’t want to read it just because everyone else is doing it.
It happened to me with the Twilight books (which was fine), Divergent (which was NOT fine because I LOVED it), and I did it with The Future of Us.
The premise grabbed me instantly, but the genre pushed me away, so I stalled. I’m not always a YA realistic fiction fan—I’m in a phase where I’m impatient with inner quests—so I waited, and read books that I predicted would have faster, more exciting plots.
The book is about two teenagers, Emma and Josh, who are neighbors and former best friends in 1996. The story quickly takes off when Josh gives Emma a CD-ROM with 100 free hours of AOL on it, since she has a new computer (that her newly remarried dad bought her out of guilt– enter subplot #1, stage left).
But when Emma downloads the CD, instead of AOL she sees Facebook. She has access to her future self’s Facebook page, and she can see what her life is going to be like in fifteen years.
The bad news? She doesn’t like what she sees.
Without giving away any spoilers, the rest of the plot is driven by Emma and Josh (the only person she tells), their underlying romantic tension, and their crazy attempts to “correct” their futures by making big and small changes in the present. Josh pursues a popular hottie with more confidence because she is projected to be his future wife. Emma tries to force her future to include her current crush, and repeatedly distances herself from men she “will” marry when she sees that her future self is not happy with any of them (before realizing that she’s the one who really needs to change). The end of the school year looms, their access to Facebook may be ending soon, and readers start to nervously wonder: will they make the right choices?
This single question is the reason why I loved this book. Other online reader/reviewers got frustrated by what I think is “the small stuff”—why doesn’t Emma use this peek into the future to make money? Why are they both so obsessed with spouses, instead of other questions they could find the answers to on Facebook? Why do all of the main characters make terrible dating decisions? Such reviews made me want to exclaim, that’s the whole point! The real message in this narrative accurately models what teenagers fail to see for themselves: how the present impacts the future, and the huge amount of control you actually have in it. (Be honest: isn’t there at least one dating choice you would take back if you could?) Believe it or not, the book doesn’t get preachy, but it also gives a valuable vicarious experience of realizing that you have to love yourself before you can love—and pick—someone else.
Perhaps the funniest commentary was in all the times that Emma and Josh look at Facebook with wonder and disgust. They can’t imagine a future where people post what they’re eating and share all of their depressing secrets on purpose.
It makes you think about your own social profiles and wince a little.
The Future of Us is one of those rare finds that crosses the YA genre into having appeal for grown-ups, too. Adults who remember the 1990s will love this book for the nostalgia. Current teens will mostly still connect to it because they can relate to Facebook, they like the romance, and the time travel element pulls them in.
They say you need to hear a recommendation up to ten times before you break down and read the book. So even if this recommendation hasn’t sold you, at least put it on your summer to-read list. Crack it open, don’t be daunted by nearly 400 pages, and just watch what happens. The Future of Us is a refreshing read, no matter what section of the library you’ve been camping in lately.
PS—If you’re a teacher like me, save this one for high schoolers. Although I would LOVE for my middle school kids to get the message, there are some swear words and an attempt at second base that conservative parents won’t appreciate.
Sara Hardin is starting her second year of teaching as a middle school Language Arts teacher in Columbus, Ohio. She loves scouring new titles to recommend to her students, and she wants to write her own YA novel (someday). She is more proud of her GoodReads shelves than her Master’s degree (but don’t tell her parents that). Find her blog at http://hardinbooks.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @EnglishKarma.