Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Future of Us

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Future of Us (Razorbill, 2011).

My daughter picked up this book and curiosity led me to have a read. It's about two high schoolers, Emma and Josh, in 1996. Their dial-up connection and AOL start-up disk hook them up to Facebook in the far-flung future of 2011, and allows them the chance to see their futures. Each time that they react against what they see, a subsequent visit sees their status irrevocably change. Marriages, jobs, children, all flow back and forth, winking in and out of existence as their actions cut off possibilities down the road.

The problem is that the '90s nostalgia (Oasis! Wayne's World on VHS from the rental store!) is written much more warmly than Emma, who is shrill and unbearably moody and downright hostile to her old friend Josh. He, in time-honored fashion, has fallen for his longtime buddy and been shot down. He's licked his wounds, salved his pride and is ready to move on, and very encouraged by what Facebook shows as a fantastic-sounding future. Emma's life, on the other hand, never seems to work out. She's either unemployed fifteen years down the line, or trapped in a loveless marriage, or her relationship status is the confusing "...it's complicated."

There are interesting points to be made about how manipulative and jealous somebody could become with all of this foreknowledge, but it doesn't look as though the YA genre is the place to make them. It's written in a very direct and unsubtle style, and high school romance is the most important thing in the entire universe. It genuinely doesn't occur to either character to actually use clues from Facebook to learn about the rest of the world over the next fifteen years, or even to find some short-term financial gain. Instead, both characters are sold on finding their soulmate right this very minute. Certainly, high schoolers are capable of amazing vapidity and selfishness, but it's hard to sympathize with anybody as narrow-minded as Emma, especially when she treats Josh so contemptuously, and actively spoils the future that he finds engaging with her envy.

I understand that allowances must be made for the genre, and that many YA books are written to appeal to middle and high school girls who value their mythical one great transcendant relationship above any and all things. I am discouraged that such a promising premise was wasted with so little thought given to how much more entertaining this book could have been. Not recommended.

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