December 19, 2012

The Future of Us


The cover of this novel quotes Entertaiment Weekly calling its premise "Back to the Future meets The Social Network," but after reading it I find that combination not an entirely apt assessment.  There's no time travel, as such, to an actual place.  The time travel in question happens on Facebook.

I suppose that means I should backtrack and at least minutely describe the premise.

Emma and Josh live next door to each other, and things are awkward.  Things are awkward because due to misread signals, a kiss was once attempted and shut down and--well, rejection hurts.  But these two are friends, and they're trying to get over it in their own ways mostly through a little bit of space.

And then Emma gets a computer, Josh brings over an AOL CD so that she might have the Internet, and once she logs on...she finds herself on a website in the future.  A fifteen-years-in-the future her looks back at her from--you guessed it--Facebook.

She shares this information with Josh, who thinks it may be a prank.  But then he sees his future self.  Interestingly enough, his future self seems happy.  Emma's future self...maybe so, maybe not.

What ensues are two opposite reactions when the pair realization that things which happen in the present can change the future: Emma says or does things to make spouses who seem to make her unhappy go away.  Josh does his utmost to ensure that nothing changes.

In terms of time travel, though, here we have no DeLoreans, no actual physical movement in time--and that's why the nerd in me doesn't want to accept EW's analogy.  I prefer to think of it more as a twisted around version of 13 Going on 30 that involves a computer.

When I first read the description, I admit I feared what I'd be reading since Facebook seemed central to the part.  I wondered how much of the text would be taken by status updates, etc.  In short, I feared a gimmicky book.  Because this much, I have learned, is true of books centered around gimmicks: no matter how good the writing or anything else may be, the longest lasting impression will be left by the gimmick.

(Take, for example, Ella Minnow Pea--a charming little novel where letters slowly disappear from the text as they disappear from a statue in a small town.  The rest of the plot?  Um, yeah.  Don't remember.  Thought the book delightfully quirky at the time but now...all I remember is that gradual paring down of the alphabet.)

This book blessedly did not fall into that trap, but used Facebook status updates from the future in snippets to, in many ways, echo back to the characters of the past.  Emma, for example, finds herself frequently reading future unhappy Facebook updates and worries herself into oblivion about why she's so unhappy...without recognizing for a great long while that she's unhappy in the present.

There's a lesson in here, too, I suppose about the risk of living anywhere but the present.  But it's not heavyhanded, and the process of learning it proves entertaining.  The plot clips along at a nice pace, and though these are teenagers, they're not as pesky and overdramatic as some other modern teenage characters I can think of.

And if all else fails, everyone should read it just for the early scenes where our two young protagonists in the late-90s are trying to figure out what on earth this webpage means.  (After all, it's almost 2013 and I don't know that I have the answer to that question, either.)

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