In The Future of Us (Penguin 2011), it’s the spring of 1996 and next door neighbors Josh and Emma are just finishing up their junior year of high school. Things have been awkward between the two of them lately (I’ll give you three guesses why), so Emma is a little surprised when Josh gives her an AOL CD to install on her brand-new computer. Once she loads it up and signs in, she discovers a mysterious website where people have a ridiculous number of friends and discuss really inane subjects. That’s right, she’s got Facebook. From the future. Emma and Josh quickly (a little too quickly, if you ask me) accept that they’re somehow reading about their lives in 2011. Josh is psyched to learn that he’s married to his school’s gorgeous Queen Bee, but Emma is not too thrilled to discover that she’s unemployed and married to a deadbeat. Not that I blame her. But they both discover that their obsession with the future might have big repercussions in their present.
That plot summary makes The Future of Us seem more exciting than it actually is. Not that it’s bad. On the contrary it is very well-written and features believable, though unoriginal characters. I haven’t read any of the authors’ previous works before, but Jay Asher and Carolyn Macker have excellent YA pedigrees, so the fact that it’s a solid book is unsurprising. I guess when I read the concept I just expected more. I mean, messages from the future! There’s a lot to work with there, right? But I feel like you could almost tell this exact same story without the Facebook angle. In fact, take away the Facebook shenanigans and it’s a pretty typical contemporary YA story. Well a contemporary set in 1996, so I guess that would make it … historical fiction? Oh. My. God. I was a high school junior in 1996! Are the 90s now considered a setting for historical fiction??????
Excuse me, I have to go tell some kids to get off my lawn.
And you know, the 90s setting is actually the biggest problem that I have with the book. Besides the fact that it makes me feel old, it really feels unnecessary. It was like the authors would only occasionally remember that the book was set in the 90s and would then awkwardly try to shoehorn references to discmans, Seinfeld, and Vice President Gore (because a teen would definitely reference him by his full title in casual conversation.) Instead of building a realistic world, all of the 90s references just make it seem artificial. Granted, maybe today’s teens, you know the actual target audience for this book, will totally buy into the setting and be shocked and intrigued about how long it took to log-on to dial-up internet. But it probably would have been better set the teen portion in 2011 with the kids receiving messages from 2026. The authors could have just made up the technological macguffin and old fogeys like me wouldn’t bat an eye.
I think that despite all the YA that I read and love, I’m just not the right audience for this book. And that’s fine. There’s a lot here that’s appealing, and I would definitely recommend this to suburban middle-class teens. The rest of us have seen or read this story enough times before and The Future of Us doesn’t really bring anything new to the table either. It’s disappointing, mainly because I was expecting something more.
Also, if you really want to check out more entertaining 90s high school stories, I would start with these two very different depictions:
My So-Called Life
Adult me wants to tell Angela that she’s wasting her time with Jordan Catalano, but teen me squees every time he grabs her hand. And I am not someone who normally squees.
I watched my VHS (!) copy of this movie so many times that I think I can still quote the dialogue by heart. And enough times to realize that some of the clips in this trailer are NOT the ones used in the final movie.