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!