The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
More than any other YA book I’ve ever read, The Future of Us proves that adults can enjoy novels that were written for teenagers. Here’s the plot: in 1996, 16-year-olds Emma and Josh log on to AOL for the first time, and a mysterious website pops up: Facebook. They’re looking at their facebook profiles from 15 years in the future. Only someone around my age, someone old enough to remember 1996, AOL, and the multitude of the book’s other 90’s culture references, can truly appreciate the contrast between that time and the present. Today’s teenagers were unborn or at most toddlers in 1996 and know no world without the internet. Many of the jokes, allusions, and descriptions in the novel are lost on these younger minds, innocent of early-tech and tech-free memories. They would have no concept of the fact that parents and teens fought over the family phone line, which was a land line, and which was used to get online. I don’t know anyone younger than 45 who has a land line now, and no one period who uses one to connect to the internet. (Thank God for cable internet!) My favorite references were the descriptions of the “crackles and beeps” of the modem signing on, Scrunchies, Wayne’s World, the many bands and musicians and TV shows. It cracked me up that it took 97 minutes to download AOL from a CD-ROM, and that when she saw facebook, Emma thought she must be famous in the future because she had her own web page. For all these reasons, I honestly believe I enjoyed this book more than my youngest sister, an avid reader born in 1995, would. But I’d still recommend it to her.
Obviously, when Josh and Emma look at their 31-year-old selves’ profiles, the first thing they want to know is who they’re married to. The interesting thing is that they make choices in the present that change the profiles, including their spouses. Sometimes these marriages seem troubled, but usually they’re contented enough. This implies a much more complex view of love than the one normally presented in teen romances. This is not the “soulmate” ideology you usually see in romance books, which says that there is only one right person for everyone. Instead, The Future of Us implies that if we make different choices, like where to go to college, we would end up married to a different person, and would probably be about as happy as we would otherwise. Happiness is determined not by who you marry, but by the sum of your choices in all parts of life and the degree to which you “live in the moment.” This is actually a really healthy way for young people to think about their relationships.
I picked up The Future of Us because I enjoyed Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher’s book about teen suicide. I think both novels will become dated pretty soon, but they’re solid YA books that have broad appeal.