Book review: ‘The Future of Us’ by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

In 1996, teenagers are just starting to get wind of something called the Internet. Apparently a place where ideas are shared, “websites” are loaded and mail is sent electronically, the web is a place that beckons high school classmates and neighbors Emma and Josh. Once best friends who had the potential for something more, a rift has pushed the pair into Awkward Land.

But Emma just got a new computer — a pity gift from her divorced dad, now welcoming a baby into his new family. And Josh has an America Online CD-ROM — their ticket to the Internet. When Emma and Josh first sign up, they notice a strange icon on their web browser . . . for something called Facebook. And when Mark Zuckerberg was nothing but a brilliant teen himself, Josh and Emma stumble upon their future.

Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler’s collaborative The Future Of Us is a fast-paced, interesting read that will bring on waves of nostalgia for twenty-somethings (like me!) who can remember life before AOL, AIM, Facebook and MySpace. A time when our lives weren’t on display; when people didn’t yak on cell phones in restaurants and on the Metro; when your family photos were bound in albums, not tagged on Facebook.

The strength of The Future Of Us seems to hinge on readers’ ability to recall the past in just that way. Emma and Josh were pleasant if fairly nondescript characters; I bonded more with Josh than Emma, mostly because Em seemed flippant and naive. But I didn’t dislike either of them. As Emma gets glimpses of her future and begins to worry that nothing in her life will turn out like she plans, she becomes desperate to keep herself from veering off course. But the more she tries to change, the more disruptive her behavior becomes.

Here’s the thing: who hasn’t looked at their life as a 26- or 32- or 40-year-old and thought, Hmm. Didn’t see all of this coming. The Future Of Us digs deep into that realization: that destiny is always pulling us in different directions, and that the future is impossible to predict. My favorite parts of the novel showed us a different Josh and Emma — the ones who live in our current world. I loved reading their status updates and interpreting the cryptic world they’ve created through a series of small decisions.

And this book really made me think. More than anything else I’ve ever read, The Future Of Us got me thinking about how the millions of little choices we make every day can push us onto roads we didn’t know existed. Something as simple as taking a different route to work could change the course of your day, week or life. Acknowledging a crush, feuding with a friend, going to a party or staying home — all seemingly insignificant moments with the potential to change everything. Seeing how Emma and Josh’s actions in ’96 influenced the future really got me thinking about the steps I’ve taken in my own life, and how those moves ricocheted into the life I have now. Some of them are positive . . . and maybe others aren’t. But either way, every day matters.

Though Asher and Mackler’s writing lacked a distinctive flair, the novel was a quick and amusing read that kept me guessing. The obvious romantic tension between our leads was predictable,  but that didn’t necessarily bother me — and it wasn’t nearly as hard for me to suspend my disbelief regarding a “Facebook of the future” as I worried it might be. Emma and Josh were the appropriate mix of curious and disbelieving regarding their destiny-seeing computer, and I appreciated that both acted like real teenagers. I also liked that the story didn’t dissolve into a commentary on the pervasive nature of Facebook and how it’s completely taken over the modern world, though there is enough of that to make me think about oversharing and my own account, too.

Teens of the ’90s will hold The Future Of Us especially close. It’s hard for me to believe that a pre-Internet world might be the subject of contemporary fiction, but it’s true — and what fascinated me most about this one was its ability to transport me back in time. I guess it’s a sign of my curmudgeonly nature that I started to write “a simpler time” just then . . . but that’s what it felt like to me. And, as the story progresses, probably for Josh and Emma, too.

A fun read for fans of young adult, and a book I think teen readers will enjoy. But will they get the references to VHS tapes and Discmen? To life without cell phones, iPods, iPhones and eReaders? I don’t know. But those of us “old” enough to remember will find the frequent references to the good ol’ days either cloying — or awesome.

I think I’m in the awesome camp.


3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0345510992 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonBook Website
Review copy provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers
in exchange for my honest review

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On putting my business in the streets

When Facebook first began to spread across college campuses, I was a sophomore headed to the University of Maryland. In 2004, it seemed like an overnight (hostile) takeover — by the time I could process what something like “Facebook” was, everyone in class was buzzing about it . . . and their faces were all over my computer screen. I joined when a friend — a rather out-of-touch, ambivalent friend — told me that even he was on the networking site.

But that was before we even thought about it as “networking.”

Now, of course, it’s taken on a life of its own. Facebook was once my way of posting funny photos with buddies, chatting about school pressures and exchanging ideas about projects due in my history and English classes. It was a way for me to communicate with classmates and laugh about professors. I updated my status all the time with all sorts of nonsense but, in a pre-Twitter world, I figured everyone would care about what it was I was doing right that second.

Remember when your “status” was limited to saying something like “I’m at work” or “I’m at school” — or, when things really evolved, you could write your own text? It was the modern-day version of the AIM profile. We could post thinly-veiled song lyrics alluding to our exes and craft passive-aggressive statements about what recent slight our friends had committed.

Oh, wait. People still do that. And Facebook doesn’t always make us happy.

Now I’m 25. I’ve graduated from college. Everyone and their brother is on Facebook — literally — but this isn’t some random rant about how FB was “better before anyone could join.” I’m not some snobby elitist. And, quite frankly, I’m glad my grandmothers (both!) are on the site; it lets me share photos and other links to what I’m up to and, by proxy, makes me feel closer to everyone. And I don’t have anything to hide.

I’m just more careful about what I share.

I live a public life. Along with write meg!, I write a twice-weekly personal newspaper column. And when I’m not doing either of those two things, I tweet about my goings-on, put my personal photos up on Flickr, share what I’m reading and who I’m talking to and what we’re up to. I don’t hide my face in any of these places and, in the past, have been approached by strangers who “know” me.

Here’s something else about me: despite all this — despite all of this — I still consider myself a private person.

It’s hard to believe, I know. I mean, as my dad would say, I put my business in the streets. But you know? Really, I don’t. Over the course of almost a decade of sharing my personal life on the Internet in some fashion, I’ve realized what it is to censor, delete, edit and present everything in a way that is, I hope, both sincere but not embarrassing.

Just like Facebook.

That’s not to say that I’m dishonest. I don’t consider myself disingenuous, and I certainly don’t lie about what I’m up to. But do I choose to share mostly the details that make me look smart, funny, intelligent, good? Sure. Do I post only flattering photos — the ones where I’m not sporting a whopping double chin and maniacal smile? Absolutely.

Do the people in my life insist I do the same?

Yes.

I used to write in a journal every night. Before bed, without fail, you’d find me tucked by my pillow with a pen and spiral notebook in hand. Within the pages of more than 20 diaries, you’ll find my reactions, feelings and perceptions of life between the tender ages of 14 and 24.



Then last spring, I stopped writing.

There’s no real reason for it. For years I’d been tormenting myself by rehashing nonsense about love and perpetuating this idea that I would never be happy until I’d accomplished A, B or C. I used my journal as a way to unburden myself — and that’s just what I did. For a decade.

But then I met Spencer and my head was full of . . . well, you know: hearts; stars; fireworks. I started writing my column, where I often chronicle my adventures and share musings on topics as diverse as cupcakes, dogs, the Olympics and sock monkeys. When I’m not writing that, I’m here — talking about books, love, food, life. And I type a whole lot faster than I write.

When it came down to it, I felt like I was running out of words. Writing in my journal became a chore, and it showed; where once I would fill pages about a single day, I began to write only a paragraph.

I share so much of myself in the public arena that, at the end of the day, I sometimes wonder what’s left for me. When I began to get personal letters and e-mails at the paper — notes about things I’d divulged in my columns — I got a little anxious. I chose to share those stories, yes.  And I chose to let people into my life in that way. Everyone has been very kind and supportive, and those letters make my day. But realizing that this personal information is out there — about my fears, hopes, apprehensions — makes me . . . well, it makes me a little scared.

So I’m thinking about what I put out into the universe.

Not because I want people to think I’m perfect. Or infallible. Or always, always kind. But because, at the end of the day, I still need things for me. I still need thoughts that are mine and mine alone; fears, goals and stories that I don’t share with anyone but myself or loved ones. When I try to sort through the catacombs of what I’m feeling, there’s a pressing need to retreat inward. To talk it over with me.

I’m not perfect. I smile and laugh and I mean what I say, but I’m prone to introspection. Writing my blog and column is a huge thrill, and nothing means more to me than getting a note or call from someone saying how much they enjoy my writing — but I can’t give everything away.

Some of it is for me.

And my diary — my old friend.