THE FUTURE OF US by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

I really wanted to like this book. I was coming down from reading Life of Pi in a single day and I really needed something light and fluffy and fun to ease me back into reading like a sensible person. The premise here is a good one: two teens in the late 90s come across their Facebook profiles of the future (15 years into the future, to be precise). It could have been great. Instead, what readers get is a half-assed pseudo-attempt at the time travel genre where the characters are riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions and weak plot lines are, at the end, left wide open. Warning: this review will be more spoiler-heavy than most to adequately communicate my dislike for it. If you trust me, you won’t bother reading it anyway.

It is 1996 and Emma has recently been given a computer from her father. When she connects to the internet for the first time, courtesy of her neighbour’s AOL disc, she is redirected to a mysterious site called Facebook. On Facebook, people appear to post photos of themselves and talk about mundane things like what they had for dinner–and when Emma stumbles across her own Facebook page, she assumes it’s a joke. A prank. After all, the AOL disc came from her estranged best friend Josh, who has distanced himself from Emma after his failed attempt at professing his true feelings towards her. When the profiles change and update regularly, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary prank. Through Facebook, Emma and Josh are able to glean some insight into their future lives, and the lives of their friends. But what will they do with the information they uncover?

… Cue sad music…

Not a goddamn lot, it turns out. The literary world can be unnecessarily hard on YA fiction as the genre has a lot to offer. But any progress that has been made to justify the strength of YA has been taken back a step or two with The Future of Us as it provides readers with two protagonists who act with entirely uncompelling, vapid and self-centred motivations. Emma is obsessed with boys (not that there’s anything wrong with that), to the extent that when future-Emma’s updates indicate the slightest tinge of unhappiness, present-Emma meddles with every day choices (e.g. thinking to herself and deciding “I will not marry insert-name-of-anyone-deemed-mildly-unworthy”) to influence her future relationship status. Present-Emma is so meddlesome that she actually tracks down one of her future husbands (her decisions change her soon-to-be suitor on an almost daily basis), has a telephone conversation with him, and changes her mind about what college she will attend to ensure they do not meet…

Yeah. The authors are providing some excellent fodder for thought-provoking discussion there. Emma broke up with someone she was dating because he had a hair cut, leading her to the realisation that maybe she only ever liked him for his hair. She may be perpetually sad and forever unsatisfied. It only gets worse. Josh’s profile reveals that he marries the hottest, most sought after girl in schools (obvs) and has a snazzy life with her while he works in the job of his dreams. So, naturally, he tries to maintain the status quo and dissuade Emma from making any changes to their future. I can, somewhat painfully, sympathise with his situation–I mean, what would I do if some freaky Facebook from the future (alliteration FTW!) showed me a future where I got absolutely everything I wanted and was really happy? I don’t know what I would do. But I certainly wouldn’t pre-empt things like Josh does, practically presenting himself to this girl with a stamp on his forehead reading I AM A REALLY GREAT GUY AND YOU DON’T KNOW IT YET BUT YOU’LL MARRY ME SO NOTICE ME NOW K? And she does notice him. And, expectedly, it doesn’t work out. Because the one thing Facebook doesn’t appear to show is a timeline (for reals–The Future of Us was written before that feature) which clearly outlines when these events are supposed to occur. Josh can see that he is married in 15 years time, but he doesn’t know when he and his future bride meet. He doesn’t know what has happened to them in between high school and marriage, all the years and the experiences that will change them. And it doesn’t mean much in the long run anyway, because at the end of the book he ends up with the one female protagonist that makes Bella Swan look like a normal, functional member of modern society.

Oops. Spoiler alert. You were given fair warning. Let’s talk about the gaps now, shall we? Aside from an open-ended and unsatisfying conclusion that doesn’t tell us if all the meddling influenced the outcome, there are a number of other fun unanswered questions. Emma learns from Facebook that one of her close friends (who has the least moral consistency I have ever come across) will actually have a child in the future. In fact, for the child to exist in the future, said friend would need to fall pregnant pretty soon so the timelines will add up. Whether this child is born (and to whom) is never answered. When future-Emma decides that her life is too Facebook-centred and deletes her profile, this is the apparent end of the Facebook madness. It doesn’t seem to matter that other Facebook profiles remain active and visible–Emma’s is gone ergo there’s no point looking again. Are you sensing a theme here?

By now I’m sure you’re asking yourself what good does come from the Facebook fiasco. I mean, Emma could be set for life–she could investigate into a wide and varied range of profiles to ascertain what the political and financial future holds. She could look deeper into the lives of her family and friends to see if there are any impending tragedies she could help them avoid (although she uncovers a potential child in the future of a friend, Emma appears to be more concerned that she hasn’t been told about any sexual activity occurring than the actual child itself). At the very least, Emma could look into the history of Facebook and try to uncover why she of all people has access to information from the future. Nope. Nada. Zip. NOTHING.

Truly. Not once is the question “why is this happening to me?” asked. There is no single moment in the book where Emma or Josh appear to care about how they have come across this gift (because, let’s be honest, it’s a goddamn gift) or consider what they could do with it.

I was angry. This was a great idea that was horribly treated and ultimately ruined. Read it and weep.

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