I was lucky enough to score an ARC of The Future of Us (it just came out this week, BTW) co-written in alternating chapters by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. I got a kick out of reading Jay Asher’s second book so soon after reading his first, Thirteen Reasons Why (talked about here and here). I haven’t read Carolyn Mackler’s novels yet, but apparently they’re great (Printz Honor and all that). So the author creds for this book? Amazing. However, I warn you: this book is not Thirteen Reasons Why or The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.
What this book does have is a clever premise: It is the dim and distant past of 1996. Emma is excited to get her first desktop with the newest Windows 95 and she scores a free CD-ROM of AOL from her neighbor, Josh. Not much is going on in her life except her mom yelling at her for tying up the phone line.
That is until she downloads AOL and instead of opening the usual account it takes her to a mysterious page called “facebook.” A page where people have hundreds of “friends” and members broadcast to the world what they had for breakfast. While perusing the site, she realizes her profile is her own…from 15 years in the future. Forget about why there is a facebook portal to the future in their AOL account, Josh and Emma become obsessed with the lives of their future selves. Every action that happens during their daily 1996 high school lives changes the profiles of their older selves. Butterfly Effect.
With a premise like that, it must be awesome, right? Sadly, I couldn’t keep myself from comparing it to Thirteen Reasons Why. Obviously they are completely different stories, but we know from his first book that Asher has some amazingly good writing chops. What happened?
Josh is a flat, two-dimensional character. Emma is as well, for that matter. It’s as if you took stock characters labeled “teen boy” and “teen girl,” gave them each a stock hobby (Josh: skate boarding, Emma: boys), a stock future (Josh: Graphic Design, Emma: Marine biology, Both: very little foundation for these future interests) and a slightly annoying mindset (Josh: bland and go-with-the-flow, Emma: boy and self-obsessed).
On top of this, Emma’s and Josh’s alternating voices read completely the same. The coolest thing about co-authored books written in alternating chapters is the distinctive voices of the two authors. Otherwise, why do it? A book that does this superbly is Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green with a story about two guys named Will Grayson. What I LOVED about the novel was the distinctiveness of each Will. Their voices, personalities, values, interests, and perspectives were completely different from each other and was, accordingly, reflected in the writing. Emma, Josh, and the entire book falls flat because of this lack of distinctive characterization.
I could go on about the plot, or lack there of, but I’ll save you. Let’s just say I love the idea of The Future of Us. I enjoyed the nostalgia of the good old days of Windows 95. I’m fond of collaborative books. Unfortunately, for me, the characters didn’t quite live up to the hype or the authors’ previous works.