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November 14, 2011

The Future Of Us
Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Razorbill YA Nov 2011. Ages 12 and up. $18.99

The book blurb on the cover: “It’s 1996 and less than half of all American high school students have ever used the Internet. Emma just got her computer and an America Online CD-ROM. Josh is her best friend. They power up and log on. And discover themselves on Facebook, fifteen years in the future.”

What I was expecting, after reading the above: A story that somehow traced a friendship as it evolved, over the years spanning AOL to Facebook. A sort of digital, epistolary novel. This idea intrigued me. Maybe even made me a little jealous… because that sounds like something I would want to write, tracing the way a friendship could evolve in parallel to technology that helped two characters stay in touch, and change perspectives over time.

That is not, sadly, what this novel turned out to be. It’s 1996, and Emma and Josh are in high school, sophomores and juniors, I think. Emma’s computer comes with a free trial AOL CD, and she’s put in charge of getting email set up for her family. Fine and believable, so far, though I was a little alarmed by the idea that she was using her actual real name as a screen name. Who DID that in 1996? Especially not teenagers!!! My parents would have flayed me alive and turned my computer into a fish tank if I put my real name anywhere the world could see in the early days of AOL! But I digress. Exploring her new online world, Emma stumbles across a web page called “Facebook!” And it’s already set up with a picture of her! But OLDER! It’s THE FUTURE! Hijinks ensue, as she and her best friend Josh explore what their future selves are up to, and experiment with ways they could change the future, while being very scared at what they could alter… including their friendship.

I think the plot is trying for some kind of Back To The Future, goofy but thought provoking idea that your small actions in high school matter to your future self. It doesn’t work. Or, it could be some kind of Freaky Friday, Billion for Boris set up too. Not working that way, either. The 1996 wonderment at Facebook is culture shocked, of course, but seems a little bit overdone in how goggle-eyed it is. “a computer in the car?” “no idea what a text is”
It’s marketed for a young YA audience, and the characters are certainly believably young and dumb. Their friendships and the possibility of a blossoming romance between the boy and girl next door, ring true in a Hollywood sort of way. Though Emma’s kind of a brat, even though her bratty actions help drive the plot.

Maybe I’m revealing a generation gap I didn’t know was there— reading this while twice the age the characters are meant to be. I’ll be interested to see what other reviews say. Especially interested in any differences between reviews by 16 year olds now… and those who, like me, remember getting their first AOL CDs in the mail.

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