If you're a teenager reading this review, then you probably don't remember what it's like not to have a cell phone, or constant access to a computer, an MP3 player and the Internet in any of its countless forms. But chances are your parents do, even if those days might seem like the Dark Ages now. As Carolyn Mackler and Jay Asher remind us, such daily habits as listening to your playlists on Pandora, getting the weather from your phone, or (gasp!) updating your status on Facebook were unimaginable not that long ago.
"...a cracking good love story and a terrific consideration of the future that we're living in today."
In THE FUTURE OF US, the year is 1996, and Emma is a high school junior. She's been best friends with her next-door neighbor Josh forever --- or at least until six months ago, when he started acting like he wanted to be more than friends (Emma's response? "But you're Josh!"). Now things are stilted and awkward between them, at least until Josh gives Emma an AOL CD-ROM so that she and her family can get online using Emma's new computer and their dial-up modem.
But when Emma logs on for the first time, she doesn't just see the AOL homepage. Instead, she stumbles upon a most confusing website: "A website appears with words and tiny pictures thrown everywhere, like a kaleidoscope. I have no idea what I'm supposed to be looking at…. The website says ‘Facebook’ at the top. It's disorganized, with graphics and writing all over the place."
Of course, as anyone who has seen The Social Network knows, Facebook wasn't even invented in 1996. So how come Emma and Josh already have Facebook profiles --- with photos that look like themselves 15 years in the future? According to this mysterious site, both are married --- Emma to someone she's never heard of, and Josh to the last person he might have expected.
As the two struggle to reconcile this vision of the future with their experiences in the present, they speculate about the extent to which the actions we take now --- from spilling juice on the carpet to kissing our best friend --- might have unexpected consequences days, weeks, or even 15 years down the road. It's also an often humorous consideration of the extent to which we all document our lives --- down to the most intimate details --- online in a way that would have been horrifying or even unimaginable to our past selves: "Why would anyone say this stuff about themselves on the Internet?" Josh asks, "It's crazy!" Emma's reply? "Exactly…I'm going to be mentally ill in fifteen years and that's why my husband doesn't want to be around me."
Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, two very well-regarded YA authors in their own right, clearly thrive in this co-authoring environment. Their alternating chapters, told from Josh's and Emma's perspectives respectively, riff off each other seamlessly, providing just the right amount of overlap and cliffhangers to keep readers guessing and wanting to read more. There are a few slight anachronisms --- a teenage girl with her own cell phone in 1996 would have been far more unusual than the authors portray here --- but these are quibbles with a novel that is both a cracking good love story and a terrific consideration of the future that we're living in today.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 14, 2011