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The future of us
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Trade Reviews

  New York Times Review

IN the darkest days of high school - when I agonized over girls, when I couldn't decide what to do about college, when I couldn't find a way to make my bushy hair not look stupid - I often wished that time travel would be invented. Perhaps one day my adult self might zip back through the decades for a quick visit to Whitefish Bay High. Future Dan could tell me how to handle my angry girlfriend and which college I would eventually decide on, and that I should enjoy my full head of hair while I still could. What I really wanted was for someone to tell me, in essence : "It's O.K., Teenage Dan. You're gonna turn out fine." The two teenagers at the center of "The Future of Us," a slight but winning young adult novel by Jay Asher ("Thirteen Reasons Why") and Carolyn Madder ("The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things"), do get to peek into their own futures, thanks to a wormhole located in an unlikely place - on the AOL CD-ROM one of them installs on her new desktop computer. "The Future of Us" is set in 1996, as the Internet is just becoming a part of daily life. But when Emma Nelson, a high school junior, goes online for the first time, she discovers she can view her own Facebook profile, circa social-media-saturated 2011. Naturally, she's flummoxed: "I have no idea what any of this means, 'Status' and 'Friend Request' and 'Poke.'" Alas, Emma, many of us still don't have a clue. Neither Emma nor her next-door neighbor, Josh Templeton, can quite believe the degree to which Facebook users of 2011 make their lives public: "Why would anyone say this stuff about themselves on the Internet? It's crazy!" Nevertheless, they eagerly explore, in chapters that alternate between the two characters' perspectives, the destinies their online profiles reveal. The message Future Josh delivers to his teenage self is a welcome one: In 2011 he somehow ends up married to the hottest girl in school. Future Emma's tidings are more mixed. From the status updates she posts, Future Emma seems unhappily married and professionally unfulfilled. "Hit my sixth month of unemployment. They say it's the economy, but I'm starting to believe it's me. Thirty-one is too young to have a failed career," reads a typical status update. And equally ominous: "You know why I need comfort food? JJJ hasn't come home for three nights. His trip was only supposed to last one day. I feel hopeless." Postcards from the future like these make confident present-day Emma suddenly nervous, while insecure Josh finds he's more poised with the knowledge that things might just work out O.K. "It's like the discovery of his future is changing him now" Emma thinks. So Teenage Emma sets out to change her future, while Teenage Josh tries to maintain his. Much of the fun of "The Future of Us" comes from watching as modest choices Emma and Josh make in the present day affect their future selves as viewed through their Facebook profiles. Emma need only sign up for an upper-level science course to see Future Emma transformed into a marine biologist. Asher and Mackler keenly dramatize the paralysis that strikes many high school juniors as they realize the long shadows their decisions - which A.P. class to take, what summer romance to cultivate - might cast on the rest of their lives. Though "The Future of Us" has a big idea at its core, it's determinedly small-scale in its concerns. Emma and Josh don't use Facebook to stop a future murder or predict an alien invasion. (Presumably one day they'll have the good sense to get in on Facebook's ground floor.) Instead, they struggle with their own romantic and professional futures in a way that can feel claustrophobic at times. Are teenagers really this blinkered in their interests and ambitions? A NUMBER of technical issues bothered me as well. Why can't Emma and Josh interact with their future selves by leaving comments? What about Facebook's YouTube embeds, or outbound links? Couldn't Emma and Josh theoretically access the whole 2011 Internet? (Windows 95 would go straight to the Blue Screen of Death, I guess.) Shouldn't they have to suffer an unwelcome Facebook redesign like the rest of us? In the end, Emma and Josh learn to live in the present rather than obsessing about the future - a welcome message if an unsurprising one. And the book wisely leaves certain things between these two appealing, smart characters unresolved. The real value of "The Future of Us" may lie less in its plot than in the rich crop of questions it will raise in teenage readers. For one future is certain: Asher's best seller "Thirteen Reasons Why" and Mackler's popular books guarantee there will be many readers for "The Future of Us." Reading the book should get contemporary teenagers wondering: Where will I live 15 years from now? Whom will I marry? What kind of life can I dream of? And what, exactly, is a "CD-ROM"? Prepare yourselves, parents, for the disbelief that will follow explanations of such historic artifacts as dial-up Internet, the Discman and busy signals. Prepare yourself as well for the post-traumatic '90s flashbacks you'll suffer when one character earnestly explains, "As a guitarist, Dave Matthews is so underappreciated." Dan Kois, a cultural critic, is the author of "Facing Future," about the Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

  Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Popular authors Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why, 2007) and Mackler (The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, 2003) combine the mass appeal of Facebook with a thoughtful meditation on how current ideas and actions can change our futures. It's 1996, and Emma Nelson has just received her first computer. Next-door-neighbor and best-friend Josh gives her a free AOL CD-ROM to try with it. When Emma powers up the computer, she discovers her own Facebook page (even though Facebook doesn't exist yet) and herself in an unhappy marriage 15 years in the future. Alternating first-person chapters from Josh and Emma over the course of five days propel this riveting read, as Emma discovers she can alter her future by adjusting her present actions and intentions. Josh's future as a wealthy graphic designer happily married to the hottest girl at their high school ought to please him but he's in love with Emma and has been for some time. Emma now, as in the future, can't commit to her own happiness and so ignores her similar feelings for Josh, instead hopping from one shallow relationship to another. Mackler and Asher explore a hypnotic facet of Facebook the ability to stalk our friends and transform it with a clever, timely story that will attract any teen with a Facebook account.--Carton, Debbie Copyright 2010 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

Thirteen Reasons Why, 2007) and Mackler's (Tangled, 2010) fantasy, told from both Emma and Josh's perspectives, makes for an entertaining but ultimately disappointing read. Focusing almost entirely on the teens' future love lives, the authors neglect 1996-era subplots involving the teens' friends and families that might have given the story additional depth and immediacy. Without question a page-turner, it's nevertheless unlikely to linger long in readers' minds. (Fantasy. 13 up)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Josh and Emma are about to discover themselves--fifteen years in the future<br> <br> 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.<br> <br> 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.
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