Josh and Emma are about to discover themselves — fifteen years in the future.
It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long — at least, up until last November, when everything changed. Things have been awkward ever since, but when Josh’s family gets a free AOL CD-ROM in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they’re automatically logged onto Facebook… but Facebook hasn’t been invented yet. Josh and Emma are looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.
Their spouses, careers, homes, and status updates — it’s all there. And every time they refresh their pages, their futures change. As they grapple with the ups and downs of what their lives hold, they’re forced to confront what they’re doing right and wrong — in the present.
As a fan of Jay Asher’s debut novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, I was extremely excited to read his second novel. I’m not sure what I expected, since I avoided all versions of the summary, wanting instead to be surprised. I did, however, envision a dark story (like Thirteen Reasons Why was, despite the fact that this book’s title suggested differently) that involved time travel in some way, and would be thought-provoking. Oddly, I was (pleasantly) surprised to find that this book only deals with… about half of those things.
The Future of Us isn’t about time travel at all, though mysterious time happenings still play a role. Emma and Josh are allowed a glimpse into their possible futures through an AOL CD-ROM that mysteriously permits them to access Facebook and the accounts they’d have on the website fifteen years into their future. It’s a unique and interesting concept, and one that absolutely had me hooked from the moment I’d started reading. Especially because neither of our protagonists have any idea how this website works (and there is nothing and no one to explain it to them). It was fascinating viewing Facebook through the eyes of foreigners, reading about the way they attempted to understand this jumble of statuses and images and random information. Though, they did a pretty good job interpreting the thing, given the circumstances. (They even noticed the time-stamp on Facebook statuses. I cracked up when Emma feared for her sanity in the future because of the overly personal information she seemed to be sharing with 100+ people on the internet, every few minutes. Josh even noted how he couldn’t imagine anyone saying this kind of stuff online. And I laughed when she tried to figure out what the hell Glee and Netflix were — she was actually very much on target with Netflix.)
What makes this book brilliant (and possibly frustrating, if you’re too young to appreciate it) are its many incredibly-authentic 90s references. Reading The Future of Us was like reliving a chunk of my childhood, and I had a blast reminiscing about discmans and beepers, brick screen savers, dial-up internet, pay phone usage, going to the library specifically to do research, coin copy machines, Toy Story, and cassette tapes. The setting was amazingly accurate, and the specific year the authors chose for it — 1996 — fit perfectly. Within this period, I also thought Emma and Josh were the most realistically-crafted 90s high school teenagers I could imagine. They actually reminded me of some characters from my favorite television shows back then (Josh brought to mind Doug Funnie from Nickelodeon and Disney’s Doug, and their group of friends felt like Sabrina’s friends in Sabrina the Teenage Witch, even though there is nothing paranormal in this book, other than the fact that they have Facebook in 1996). Emma and Josh’s reactions, as they were exposed to this new technology, were also very believable. I can’t even imagine how I’d respond if I had stumbled onto a website like Facebook back then. I know I wouldn’t know what to do with it, and the status updates, the Facebook newsfeed, the random, bizarre information people were posting about their personal lives would have confused me greatly. And possibly driven me insane. Which is, more or less, how Emma and Josh react, before they attempt to deal with this ‘MYSTERIOUS WEBSITE ABOUT THEIR FUTURES’ more calmly.
I was amused that one of the protagonists was named Emma Nelson. If you’re a Degrassi: the Next Generation fan, you’ll know that an ‘Emma Nelson’ was a main character in its first season, and the first episode actually deals with computers and the dangers of the internet.
Although she’s realistic (I could imagine any teenager in that time period doing this — hell, I could imagine people in this time doing it), Emma’s haste to determine her future from merely a few status updates did bother me. Yeah, I understand that the concept is foreign to her, but… to assume your future self is being cheated on because your husband has been on a trip for three days? It implies problems, to be sure, but to erase ever meeting the guy from your life so quickly and rashly seemed a little extreme, and the connection, that absence equals cheating, seemed like a bit of a stretch. It made her come across as a little crazy and melodramatic.
This book utilizes dual perspectives, alternating between Emma and Josh’s points-of-view. Despite the fact that Emma and Josh’s arcs were different, they were still connected, so the technique worked well, and their stories fit together amazingly.
A few friends of the protagonists were introduced with hinted storylines of their own. I know this might have been a plot device to have Emma and Josh really consider their present instead of their future(s) and work on fixing that instead of changing what had yet to even happen. While it accomplished its purpose, I was a little bothered that these secondary storylines were partially left unresolved.
Somewhere in the novel, Emma mentioned the existence of DVDs. Maybe I’m getting old, but… I can’t remember DVDs existing in 1996. Then again, I was only seven.
I was frustrated that we never find out how this Facebook thing is even possible. What happened? Where did it come from? Was it a random glitch in the CD/time stream continuum? No rules are established for this “website time travel”, and Emma and Josh simply accept that things float in the internet outside of time and space… somehow (or at least, for them). It’s not relevant to the heart of the story by any means, but I really want to know!
The Future of Us is a light, original, compelling novel, and I had a blast reading it. While it isn’t the emotional rollercoaster Thirteen Reasons Why was, it still deals with important themes, the greatest being to take chances and enjoy the ‘here and now’. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a fun contemporary story, especially to children of the 90s who long to reminisce.