Book Review: The Future of Us

First, I’ll give you Publisher’s Weekly’s summary of it:

It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long – at least, up until last November, when Josh did something that changed everything. Things have been weird between them ever since, but when Josh’s family gets a free AOL CD in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they’re automatically logged onto their Facebook pages. But Facebook hasn’t been invented yet. And they’re looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.
By refreshing their pages, they learn that making different decisions now will affect the outcome of their lives later. And as they grapple with the ups and downs of what their futures hold, they’re forced to confront what they’re doing right – and wrong – in the present.

I was pretty excited to read this book because I was a senior in high school in 1996, so you couldn’t get any more target audience than me…except this is a YA novel geared for current high schoolers and it turns out I probably wasn’t the target audience after all.  Minus the following critiques,  I generally liked the story-line/plot and the characters and felt they were realistically portrayed. I cared for Josh and Emma and, by the end of the book, was fairly well vested in the outcome of their relationships.  I wasn’t put off by the first person, present tense as some people might be, and I understood the necessity of it considering that the characters were looking into the future. It’s hard to look into the future when you’re talking in past tense.

What bothered me about the book the most were two things:

(1)    The Facebook quotes that were used to represent the dialogue of future Emma and future Josh. Being a regular user of Facebook and an adult similar in age as the Emma and Josh characters who were posting on Facebook, I thought the dialogue was awkward and cheesy, and the posts made by the future Emma character hit hard on two of my biggest pet peeves on FB; the first being posts that are way too intimate or personal for such a public setting (Example from book: “Hubby’s worked late three nights in a row. I think he’s cheating on me.” TMI! Especially if I’m only your FB friend because we met once at a fundraiser we both attended sometme last year); and the second pet peeve being posts that are elusive or psycho babble like: “Sometimes I wonder about the meaning of it all…” and “I think I’ll take a break from FB for a while and try to spend more time in the here and now.”  The Emma character was so bad about making those kinds of posts. I understand the purpose was to further the teenage Emma’s uncertainty about the future and lead her to do things in the present to try to change the outcome of the future, but it didn’t stop me from cringing on almost every one of her posts. I would have unfriended her if I could have.

(2)    The book assaults it’s reader with pop-culture references. It’s like it’s saying, “I’m a 90s book. Wanna see how 90’s I am? I’m going to talk about Dave Matthews and Hootie and the Blowfish, and Seinfeld and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as many times as I can squeeze them in. In case you forgot this is set in the mid 90’s let me remind you not everyone had a cell phone and people actually had to do things with pay phones. Remember pay phones? How quaint! Ha ha, the 90s were so funny!”  For a modern teenager who has no real memory of 1996, these pop culture references are probably useful in setting the atmosphere. For me, it felt less like a walk down memory lane and more like being hit repeatedly with t-shirts from one of those t-shirts cannons at a rock concert. Each one of the t-shirts has a 90s icon on it. BOOM! AOL guy saying, “You’ve got Mail!” BOOM! Emma sings along with Oasis’s Wonderwall. BOOM!  VHS tapes because there is no DVR BOOM! Dial-up internet.

I recently read another book that was heavily laden with pop culture references: Ready Player One. (Check it out on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Ready-Player-One-Ernest-Cline/dp/030788743X).  I was just barely the right age to be the target audience for that book, but I recognized most of the nostalgia and loved each tidbit that the author threw at me. But where Ready Player One made the pop culture integral to the plot (a main character had an 80’s pop culture obsession and designs a whole digital world around these things for the other main characters to live and play in), the pop-culture in The Future of Us feel more like speedbumps that impede the natural flow of the story.

I’d like to hear the opinion of a current high schooler who was likely an infant in 1996 and see if they take The Future of Us as a slightly more sophisticate version of Happy Days (hey it’s the 70s-80’s but look how great the 50s-60s were) or a creative commentary on the change of social culture and its effect on our current and future lives. Or a nice blend of both.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. annrichduncan
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 00:11:18

    Good comments. Good critique. But, as the author of a YA historical fantasy series, I’m still intrigued and may read it (The Future of Us). http://www.annrichduncan.com

    Reply

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