The Future of Us (by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler)

24 12 2011

When Jay Asher (who wrote the teen favorite and bestseller Thirteen Reasons Why) and Carolyn Mackler  (who wrote one of the most girl-empowering books ever) decided to collaborate, the cat was excited. Other collaborations between some of her favorite authors have turned out more than great (almost anything that Cohn and Levithan collaborate on has been excellent, and Levithan’s collaboration with John Green churned out the incredibly witty and touching Will Grayson, Will Grayson). Unfortunately, instead of boosting each other’s game, this particular partnership somehow did not bring out the best in both authors, and besides a few nostalgic thoughts about the early days of the Internet that will appeal to 30-somethings, there’s very little lasting material here.

In The Future of Us, Emma gets a new computer from her (absent) father. Despite the fact that things have been weird between her and her best friend that’s a boy Josh for a couple of months now, Josh gives her a free AOL CD-ROM that hooks her up to the Internet. The year is 1996. We’re talking dial-up, slow connections (it takes more than an hour to download something! Oh the horror! Oh the memories!) and such exotic things like Twitter or Facebook have not been invented yet… but what if? What if, one day in the year 1996 you log on to your computer, and instead of the brick wallpaper, you find yourself looking at your Facebook profile 15 years into the future? Would you believe what you see? Would you just be curious about what your life is like? Or, if you didn’t like what you saw, would you – after establishing that this website is not just some kind of elaborate hoax (isn’t it, though?) – try to alter your future Facebook profile (and hence your future) by small actions in your present?

This dilemma, to change or not to change your future, is the dichotomy that separates Josh from Emma. Emma does not like what she sees in her future. Josh does. Both deal with it in a different way. Emma desperately wants to ‘improve’ her future by changing things in her present. However, she notices that whatever she does, she ends up ‘unhappy’. Or at least that is what she thinks by just seeing glimpses of her future (a photo, a status update etc. etc.). Josh on the other hand warns her to be cautious, but Emma accuses him of thwarting her: would he not do the same thing if his future was also an unhappy one?

Granted, the idea of writing a book about Facebook when Facebook didn’t exist is a great one and of course opens the door to all sorts of speculation about the ‘changeability’ of the future, the point of doing things a certain way in your present life, questioning choices and decisions you make, etc. On the other hand, to make this great idea into a great novel, you need a few other things too. Not in the least great writing, and developed characters. The writing reads away as fast as Internet junkies update their Facebook status these days.  This may all be good and swell for the Facebook generation, but it doesn’t bode well for the lasting merit of this book. Rushed and concerned with the immediate results of it in mind (btw, there’s already a movie deal for this book… ). It all seems a bit shallow and forgettable… just like the characters, Emma and Josh.  Good for the moment, not much there for eternity.

I mean, Emma is whiny and Josh is nice. That’s about it. And if there’s anything you couldn’t accuse Carolyn Mackler of with The earth, my butt and other big round things was writing shallow and forgettable characters, which unfortunately Emma and Josh pretty much are. Virginia with all her faults and perks was a great, well-rounded (no pun intended!) character. Emma and Josh are just there and do not exactly evolve much throughout the book. Oh, there’s some change to be sure (Emma in particular has a lot of maturing to do), but they hardly ever confront their problems, or the problems that other characters experience in the book. A case in point is Emma’s friend Kellan. The greatness of a novel can often be measured by the depth of the minor characters. *spoiler ahead* At one point in the novel, Emma finds out that Kellan has a 14-year-old child 15 years into the future, which means she must have been a teenage mom… which means, she’s about to get pregnant, or is pregnant in Emma & Kellan’s present. After that, Emma makes sure that Kellan has condoms, but apart from that there is no discussion at all about the state of her relationship with her on-off boyfriend Tyson. I mean there’s a myriad of possibilities here and that’s just one particular dilemma the characters have to deal with. And surely, there are lessons (albeit predictable ones) to be learned about living in the present and that whatever you do affects your future. But to be honest, it seemed that Asher and Mackler just wanted to get to the end of a book-sized manuscript, rather than dwell on their characters and their issues (of which there really are plenty).  Definitely a missed opportunity.

A collaboration of 2 gifted writers should not be an excuse not to write at the top of your game or to underdevelop your characters, or to rush things. But rather it should encourage you to work harder and to make sure than 1 + 1 does not equal 2 but 3. In this case, however, it only equaled about 1.5… The Future of Us is all about the idea, the concept of ‘what if…’. Still, given the fact that this idea was given to 2 extremely talented writers (they really are!), the cat cannot just ‘settle’. I guess, this book is good enough for the shallow Facebook generation and it’ll give Generation Y a few nice nostalgic memories, but the cat, always one for the dissenting voice, wants more than this…  Oh and one more thing: the cat *hates* the Dave Matthews Band!



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