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The Future of Us, by Jay Asher and Carolyn Macker, 309 pp, RL: TEEN

THE FUTURE OF US is now in paperback!!

I was pretty excited when I heard that Jay Asher, author of the best selling, amazing Thirteen Reasons Why and Carolyn Mackler, author of five YA books, had written a book about two teenagers in 1996 who get the chance to view their Facebook pages - created fifteen years in the future - even though Facebook hasn't been invented yet. The teen section is filled with great collaborations between YA writers like Rachel Cohn, John Green and David Levithan who have, in various combinations, authored two of my favorite YA books, Dash & Lily's Book of Dares and Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Add to this small but growing list of fabulous books, The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler.

While The Future of Us can't truly be called a book about time travel, seeing into the future is an important, fascinating plot point that gives this otherwise seemingly standard teen romance story a sense of urgency and suspense. I started reading this book at work when I came across it on the cart of new releases and spent every free moment I had afterwards breathlessly turning pages. I normally read two books at a time, but I was so consumed by the plot of The Future of Us that I just couldn't make room in my consciousness for any other story until I knew the end of this one. Part of the suspense of the book was that, while I thought I could figure out one or two possible endings, I really was never sure which direction the authors would ultimately go with.

The story begins with Josh Templeton and Emma Nelson, longtime neighbors, high school juniors, estranged best friends. Some six months earlier, after going to see Toy Story, Josh told Emma that he "liked" her and went in for a kiss. She freaked out and the two have been cool with each other ever since, although they still hang out together since their respective best friends, Kellan and Tyson, have an on again/off again romantic relationship. Things change quickly for Josh and Emma when his mom sends him over to her house with an AOL CD-ROM that has 1,000 free minutes on it for her to use with the new computer that her Dad sent her. AOL. CD-ROM. Minutes. Dial-up. My husband and I bought our first post-college computer in 1996 and I have the vaguest of memories of doing our banking on line,  that ringing sound as we went online and tied up our phone line for hours, and buying Little Critter CD-ROMs for our then three year old daughter to play. Naturally, all these aspects of life and the internet in 1996 are going to seem alien and novel to the intended readers of this book (many of whom were not even born in 1996...) Mackler and Asher do a fabulous job of integrating these important indicators of the time period into the story without turning them into stand-out novelties. While Dave Matthews, Wayne's World, Discmans, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, pagers and the few rich kids who have cell phones might stand out to readers and even prompt them to look a few things up on their iPhones, I was surprised by how little I actually remembered about those days before the internet was an integral, indispensable part of everyday life, a little bit like, um, air.

Loading the free minutes onto her computer somehow also gives Emma access to this strange internet thing called "facebook," allowing her to see herself some fifteen years into the future. At this point, Asher and Mackler could have taken The Future of Us in so many directions, many of which would have been as fascinating, although perhaps not as satisfying at the end of the book, as the one they did go with. Although Emma is seemingly the character with more going for her - she plays saxophone in the marching band, runs cross country, is talking about taking a college level biology class with Kellan at Hemlock State during her senior year, and has had a string of boyfriends - she somehow ends up unhappily married and cryptically complaining about it on Facebook in the future. Convinced this is some kind of prank, she calls Josh over to help her make sense of what she is seeing. One of my favorite parts of The Future of Us is when, after perusing several posts on Facebook, both Josh and Emma express shock at the amount of private personal information that is revealed/shared freely on the internet. And they don't even know about YouTube... Upset by what seems to be her future, Emma is even more disturbed when she looks at Josh's Facebook page and sees that he is married to the most popular, good looking, girl in the school who also comes from a very wealthy family. Fifteen years in the future Josh is a graphic designer working for a company his father-in-law owns, he and his wife have a big house on the lake, three kids and have just returned from a vacation in Waikiki. Invigorated by his future, Josh, who has been a skater dude who, while not entirely a slacker (his very strict, overbearing college professor parents would not allow that) seems to be flying pretty low under the radar socially, begins to take small steps and make little changes that break him out of his shell and lead him down the path to his future. Josh and Emma also make some discoveries about their friends and family in the future and must decide how to handle this information in 1996.

When Emma begins to realize that changes she makes in her life in 1996, even seemingly small changes, can make ripples that affect her life in the future, she thrashes about, almost desperately at times, trying anything that will keep her from being unhappily married in the future. In this way, she manages to go through a couple of different husbands, kids, jobs (or lack of jobs) and cities to live in while trying to do the thing in 1996 that will lead her to a happy future. All the while, she is increasingly angry at Josh because his future is bright and, when he takes chances in 1996 he begins to get noticed, and not just by his future wife. What I love most about  The Future of Us is the idea of being able to look at your future self and see the thoughts and behaviors that you will be entrenched in some fifteen years in the future with the perspective of time that allows you to see how these beliefs and behaviors do not serve you well. In high school, when we are beginning to practice at romantic relationships and maybe even love, our ideas about how these things work are being forged by our experiences. Naive and young as we are, we are also bold and egotistical and prone to thinking we know everything and there is nothing left to learn. Given the chance to see themselves fifteen years in the future, Josh and Emma realize that they have a lot to learn and what they thought was unchangeable and even unthinkable is very changeable and infinitely possible. Ultimately, I like to think that, by seeing themselves fifteen years in the future, Josh and Emma are able to reduce the learning curve of love that sometimes does take fifteen years and a few marriages to figure out - if you are lucky enough to figure it out at all.

Asher and Mackler's writing is seamless. I think I simplistically assumed that Asher wrote Josh's chapters and Mackler wrote Emma's but reflecting upon the book I am sure that the working relationship was much more complex than that and an interview on the PRI radio show Here & Now addresses this, as well as other interesting aspects of the book and its authors. An interview for EW Magazine shed a bit of light on the writing process, while another interview with M Christine Weber revealed the authors' sillier sides.  However they did it, in the end they created a highly readable, thought provoking look at relationships.


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