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

18 Nov

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Title: The Future of Us

Author(s): Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Genre: Contemporary YA

Publisher: Razorbill

Published: November 21, 2011

Summary: It’s 1996, and less than half of all American high school students have ever used the Internet. Emma just got her first computer and an America Online CD-ROM. Josh is her best friend. They power up and log on–and discover themselves on Facebook, fifteen years in the future. Everybody wonders what their Destiny will be. Josh and Emma are about to find out.

THE FUTURE OF US was one of the ARCs that I picked up at Book Expo this year, and to say that this was one of the most sought-after books there (at least on Wednesday!) is probably an understatement. All of the buzz was understandable, of course. Who among us slightly older YA lovers would not be giddy with anticipation over a book that basically describes the early internet with which we were once so familiar? I know I was excited. In the end, though, THE FUTURE OF US was just so-so for me. Well, parts of it were so-so, and the parts that I thought most appealing are possibly the parts that might appeal the least to the new generation of young people who couldn’t even tell you what a CD-ROM is. So let’s get into it.

This book was very cute. The romance was cute–not amazing; it never really made my insides all twisty–and definitely predictable. But it was sweet. Maybe it seemed like the conclusion came upon me a little fast also, but since I had assumed the ending from the start, it wasn’t so bad. I wish the ending had been a little bit later in the story, too. Seeing just a chapter or two more would have been very welcome. Especially because some of the secondary characters had some plot threads hanging, but, I guess this was a story about Emma and Josh, so maybe hoping for a little closure for everyone else is just something I can cross my fingers and wish for. And I did like them, Emma and Josh. It was easy to root for them. That being said, there were a number of story lines that were left largely unresolved and that bothered me.

Speaking of secondary characters, there were a lot of issues floating around between Emma and Josh’s family and friends. Kellan and Tyson, Emma’s relationship with her step-dad and her dad’s new family in Florida, Josh’s brother, not to mention the fact that Josh’s parents were cartoonishly anal. And Sydney. I hope we weren’t supposed to dislike her because I really didn’t. She seemed like a nice girl and would have liked to hear a little more from her. But the bottom line is as much as I liked Emma and Josh, I felt like there were LOTS of interesting things to talk about to do with the people around them that would have made them–and the story–seem even more fleshed out and fully realized. Some of the secondary characters seemed only fleetingly important, there and then forgotten. And there were some issues that were brought up via people’s Facebook profiles that were not addressed at all, and it made me wonder, briefly, why they were brought up in the first place. I’m a little unsure about why they used the Facebook device for people other than Emma and Josh if it was going to turn out that the other people’s stories would have no resolution. Just a curious thing–and forgive me my moment of radicalism–but I found myself after the book was over thinking how much better the story would have been if the Facebook device and plot had been totally abandoned in favor of just writing a really good book about these two kids trying to sort out their feelings for each other with their families and friends around them in the world they lived in right now.

And just a quick assessment of the Facebook device: I liked it. I liked the whole idea behind this story, and I liked how the Facebook element was used to illustrate how little tiny things that seem like nothing at all have bearing on our futures. It was a good thing to contemplate. And I understand totally that the only way were were going to get a good glimpse of Emma and Josh’s futures was through status updates on Facebook, but I’m doubtful of the probability that people would actually post some of the things their future selves were posting. Actually, this seemed to be mostly Emma’s problem. Girl aired too much dirty laundry! “I think my husband is cheating on me because he hasn’t come home from vacation yet.” (I thought it a stretch that she jumped to this conclusion anyway.) “My husband is a bum who takes my money to buy things and leaves me with nothing to pay my therapist with.” “I’M GOING TO CHANGE MY FACEBOOK PASSWORD.” Seriously? I don’t know, maybe it’s just that none of my Facebook friends post stuff this intensely personal. But it didn’t seem realistic to me. And, to be honest, without the Facebook device, with a book still set in 1996, I’m not sure how THE FUTURE OF US could have been so successfully marketed to the young people of now, unless they might have been persuaded to be interested in reading about the stone age of the late 1990s, where people had crazy things called VCRs, pagers, and dial-up internet.

Aaaaalllllllll of this being said, I liked this book more for the way it tickled my memories than any other thing. It was crazy how many flashbacks I had reading this book. Emma and Josh are exactly the same age that I was in 1996, so they are literally my people. And every time they made some pop culture reference–or named just any old sign of the times–it made me grin and sometimes laugh out loud, which is nice. The Discmans and beepers (!!) and those horrible Windows 95 screensavers and actual real video stores and YM. Oh, YM!! How I loved you so! (better than Seventeen). Wayne’s World. Taping–on VHS–Seinfeld (although I was more likely to be taping Friends) on Thursday nights. Friggin’ cassette tapes!! Dave Matthew’s Band when he was still just a college jam band with no real mainstream popularity at all. It was all so amusing to remember. It makes me wonder how teens now will relate to it all, but it was fun for me.

Two other little things that I loved: The librarian at Emma and Josh’s high school is acknowledged as being to coolest teacher there. Big thumbs up. And Emma’s favorite comfort food is mac and cheese. A girl after my own heart.

So all in all, I enjoyed THE FUTURE OF US, but not for the reasons I thought I would, and I was expecting it to be better. I was eager for a cute, tingly little romance and I wound up enjoying other aspects of the story more. The things that made this book most enjoyable to me are the things that might not have the same nostalgic appeal to young readers today, but hopefully they will get enjoyment from reading about the romance between Emma and Josh. A likable enough love story that fell a little flat for me.

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4 Responses to “Book Review: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler”

  1. Lucy November 18, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    I had a similar reaction to this book. Loved the 90s references and thought the Facebook updates were a fun device. Cute read overall, like you say. You’re so right about Emma – she did air too much dirty laundry! I didn’t find her all that likable in general actually. Good point about the side characters and that their stories were left on the table. Great review đŸ™‚

  2. Stephanie November 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm #

    I didn’t have the chance to review this, but hope to get to it one day, but I do have trouble with characters that aren’t very likable. I guess I will see. Great review.

  3. trippingbooks November 20, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    @Lucy, there *was* something a little annoying about Emma. Sometimes I have a hard time determining when to applaud an author for making their teens seem more real (i.e. occasionally annoying bratty types who grate) or get on their case for making their characters hard to stomach. I feel like sometimes the fact that I’m an adult makes the annoying teens seem even worse to me. I still love ’em, though!

    @Stephanie, you should definitely give it a shot. It was a good book that definitely had its upsides. I’d love to hear what you think, if you ever get a chance to read it!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Top Ten Tuesday (22) « Tripping Over Books - April 10, 2012

    […] Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. I wanted this one to be better, friends. But I thought I would enjoy the romance and the Facebook angle. Alas, the thing I REALLY […]

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