The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler is the story of Josh and Emma, next-door neighbors who, in 1996, are high school students just discovering the Internet. When Josh gives Emma an AOL CD-ROM, she creates an account, expecting to send and receive email and maybe instant message some people from school. What appears on her screen instead, however, is a website called Facebook, and a profile page for Emma 15 years in the future. At first, she thinks it might be a prank, but when Josh turns out to have a Facebook page as well, they realize they can actually see - and manipulate - what will happen to them as adults. Emma becomes obsessed with changing her present life to achieve better outcomes in the future, while Josh tries to embrace the future predicted by Facebook, even if it doesn’t feel exactly right. All the while, their friendship, which has been on rocky ground, goes through a roller coaster of ups and downs.
Though this book is marketed as YA, I strongly suspect that the appeal is actually to adults in their late 20s and early 30s who were themselves in high school during the late 1990s. I finished 8th grade and began 9th in 1996, and I was amused, in the early parts of the book, by the references to all the music that was popular then (Dave Matthews, Green Day, etc.) and all the technology, like cell phones and the Internet, that was brand-new. Unfortunately, the novelty of these 90s references wore off pretty quickly, as did the cute jokes about the future that were obviously meant to point out certain accomplishments or drawbacks of 21st century society.
The story’s plot, too, is not as strong as it could be. While watching the characters toy around with their fates was interesting and raised a lot of questions about what we might change if we could, the concept of Facebook was pretty much irrelevant to the story line. Josh and Emma also felt like very flat characters, and I was not at all invested in their friendship or potential romance. At times, I couldn’t even tell their voices apart, and I kept forgetting whose point of view I was supposed to be in. What kept me reading, honestly, was the possibility of finding out why these teens were given the privilege of seeing their futures, and was hugely disappointed by the neat and tidy ending that explained almost nothing.
In the end, I see this book as a novelty title, which appeals to the interests of the portion of the adult population who attended high school between 1994 and 2003. For those readers, the 90s references will be a good laugh, but the time period ultimately won’t ring true. And for teens who have always lived in a world with the Internet and social media, talk of AOL won’t mean a thing, and the weak storyline will lose their interest, even if the concept is appealing at first.
I borrowed The Future of Us from my local public library.
For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.