Josh and Emma have lived next door to each other their entire lives. When Josh’s mom gets a free AOL CD in the mail, she tells him to give it to Emma, who just got a new computer. When they sign on, they end up logged into their Facebook profiles. The problem is that it’s 1996, and Facebook hasn’t been invented yet. With a glimpse into their lives 15 years later, the two are hooked. As they make decisions in their daily lives, they begin to notice that changes occur in their futures. What are they doing right and wrong, and how do they ensure that they end up happy?
It’s a great premise, isn’t it? Both Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler have made names for themselves in the YA world, and to say that this collaboration was eagerly anticipated is putting it mildly. Unfortunately, a promising premise and two popular authors can’t help the fact that the result is shallow, silly, and ultimately uninteresting.
The novel’s strongest point is that it acts as both a trip down memory lane for Gen X-ers as well as relatively smart commentary on today’s obsession with social media. The name-dropping of 90s pop culture feels a bit forced at times, but it’s still fun to cringe when characters say things like, “Dave Matthews is one of the most underrated guitarists ever.” Also, Josh and Emma’s shock at what people are willing to say about themselves on the internet is entertaining. How far we’ve fallen.
Unfortunately, these tidbits can’t sustain the story as a whole. Instead of focusing in the main characters (or developing them at all), the authors allow their characters to worry over who they will marry and what job they will have. This propels far too much of the plot, and it doesn’t take long before it starts to make the story feel totally claustrophobic. Is that really all teenagers have to think about? Their future spouse?
There are several opportunities to develop side stories and secondary characters, and each one is completely ignored. Instead of allowing the story to open up, the plot moves along at a steady, fast pace. The result is a page-turner to be sure, but there’s no depth to be found here.
Some readers will enjoy the light fantasy element of getting to know your future before it happens, but most will be frustrated by lackluster characters and a kiddie-pool-shallow plot. I’d give this one a pass and watch The Butterfly Effect instead. At least that one is unintentionally hilarious.
The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler. Razorbill: 2011. Borrowed copy.