The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

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The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Reviewed by Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Summary: The book's a little bland at times, but the concept is a fascinating one that drives the story forward at a lively pace.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: January 2012
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-0857076076

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It's 1996 and Emma has just got a brand new computer and when her friend Josh gives her a free AOL CD he got in the mail, she looks forward to having an internet connection. However, she gets a lot more than she bargained for when the CD inexplicably gives her access to a website that appears to show her snippets of what is going on in her life, and that of her friends and family fifteen years into the future. The website's name? You guessed it: Facebook.

The concept is a brilliant one, and the authors handle it really well. Facebook is a massive multimedia social networking site and the authors don't forget about this; Emma and Josh find that they can view photos posted by past versions of themselves and discover what their friends are up to in the future. They are particularly interested in that little section in the profile page for relationship status, as well as the children they will have and their future jobs. Once the pair get over their initial disbelief, everything becomes much more interesting, and frightening, as they realise that the future they see isn't set in stone, but is constantly being updated according to how they are living their lives right now. Upon realising that she wouldn't be happy in the future and her husband would cheat on her, Emma's determination to never get together with her future husband in the present, has a massive effect on her Facebook page, with her relationship status, her children and her status updates all undergoing shifts.

Emma realises that having the ability to see and change her destiny isn't necessarily the key to bringing her happiness in the future, as decision after decision she makes fails to change her future for the better. Furthermore, her determination to change her destiny brings her into conflict with Josh who is not only warier of the impacts of their meddling, but also against changing the future he sees for himself through the Facebook page, which appears to show him living a life of wealth and happiness with the prettiest girl in school as his wife. Both undergo journeys of self discovery, with Emma realising that she cannot simply change what she does, but has to change the person she is, in order to improve her future, and Josh discovering that what will bring happiness to his future self isn't necessarily what he actually wants in the present.

It was an odd sensation to feel nostalgic, but reading about AOL and dial-up Internet connections made me feel just that. The two time periods, 1996 and 2011, are both ones I could relate to, so I definitely got a number of the smart references to the differences between the two. What the hell happens to Pluto?, in particular, had me cracking up, especially when Emma started speculating about whether a meteor had destroyed the planet. A more serious issue that was touched upon was that of homosexuality, with Josh's shock at the freeness with which people expressed their sexuality on Facebook making for a thoughtful point.

The concept is such an awesome one, and so much more could've been explored through it, with the possibilities of having access to knowledge of your future that is constantly adjusting to every tiny change happening in the present being endless; I was left wanting more in the end. Nonetheless, I do think the authors pitched the reactions of Josh and Emma to the phenomenon of the Facebook pages of their future, very well and fittingly considering the context and time period.

The main weakness of the book lies in the characters. Neither Josh nor Emma have distinctive personalities. Both lack interesting backstories and neither had any quirkiness or passion to redeem them, with Emma in particular striking me as self-absorbed and not particularly likeable. Ultimately, I didn't find myself caring that much about the characters or their various relationships. I found the book engaging, not because I empathised with the characters, but because I was intrigued by the concept. Although the concept does carry the story forward, the plotting and the characters simply aren't good enough to give the conclusion any real resonance.

It didn't live up to my expectations, but The Future of Us is by no means a bad book, and is definitely worth a read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver also describes a narrator trying to discover who she wants to be, not via a Facebook page this time, but through an equally fascinating concept wherein she is forced to relive her last day over and over again. It comes highly recommended from The Bookbag, and I found it incredibly uplifting and poignant. If you enjoyed the writing style of The Future of Us, I would recommend Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, a haunting read where a girl who committed suicide leaves behind tapes explaining her reasons; in this case, the boy listening to the tapes can do nothing to change what has already happened, a stark contrast to the endless potential described in The Future of Us.

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