Book review: Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler’s “The Future of Us”

There is no doubt that Facebook has become one of the, if not the most, ubiquitous aspects of modern life.

Since it was created in 2004, Facebook has grown rapidly and ingratiated itself into all aspects of our online and offline lives. Want to know more about that cute guy you’ve been crushing on? Look for him on Facebook and see if you have mutual friends. Impressed by a certain company or product and want to know more about it? Like it on Facebook.

Facebook’s influence is such that its creator, Mark Zuckerberg, was named Time’s Person of the Year in 2010. He was made even more famous – or infamous – by the movie “The Social Network”, which won three Academy Awards. The highly contentious non-fiction book upon which the movie was based, Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal”, debuted at number four on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Given all that, it really should come as no surprise that in Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler’s new book, “The Future of Us”, Facebook plays a pivotal role in the lives of its two main characters. Is this going to be the Facebook novel, or will it make readers and Facebook users wish for a dislike button even more?

Set in 1996, “The Future of Us” takes us back to a time when the internet was still a novelty and not as prevalent as it is today. It tells the story of Emma and Josh, two childhood friends who have drifted apart because of a misunderstanding, pointedly avoiding each other even though they only live right across each other.

Unbeknownst to them, the internet is about to bring the two of them together. Emma, through Josh, gets an America Online CD-ROM, and is all set to experience what it’s like to be on the world wide web. However, they discover something unusual – their Facebook profiles, 15 years in the future.

And that’s not even the most unusual thing the pair encounters. The two very quickly find out that each time they refresh the page, their futures change – and not always in ways that they want it to. Will Emma and Josh find out what they’re doing wrong in the present so they can change their future? Or will their relationship status remain at “It’s complicated”?

Changing things in the present so as to have a better future is a trope that’s been around for a long time, popping up both in literature and in film. It’s been used in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and all the way to the “Back to the Future” movies. Anyone who’s read enough books and seen enough movies can accurately predict the twists and turns such a story takes.

The authors Asher and Mackler were both probably aware of these conventions because the book doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the table when it comes to the concept of time travel. The only thing new about this most recent interpretation is how it utilizes Facebook as its method of “time travel”.

Aside from being a tad predictable, Asher and Mackler also fail to utilize Facebook to its fullest effect. Being the only thing in the story that is “new”, one would have expected it be used much more inventively, but all it does is act as a glorified crystal ball. The novelty of it eventually wears off as the reader progresses through the story.

Aside from that, the writing isn’t as snappy or as compelling as the previous works by Asher and Mackler. This may come as a slight disappointment to fans of the pair, who are behind such bestselling and controversial works such as “Thirteen Reasons Why” and “The Earth, my Butt, And Other Big Round Things”.

But whatever “The Future of Us” lacks in inventiveness and originality, it makes up for with charm and a heavy dose of 90s nostalgia, sure to hook any reader within a certain age range. For some of us, the age of dial-up connections, nine planets in the solar system, and cassette tapes wasn’t so long ago, and reading about the characters’ curiosity about the state of Pluto is sure to elicit a laugh.

Asher and Mackler also attempt to tackle the complicated relationship that we now have with Facebook and it’s omnipresence in our lives. While the pair aims a few pointed jabs at the Facebook generation – Emma and Josh wonder why people in the future are so obsessed about “lame vacation photos and trivial things” – they also acknowledge how dependent we have become on the site. Even Emma and Josh, despite their initial misgivings, find themselves hooked on Facebook.

Emma and Josh are also greatly written characters, bound to easily win the sympathies of any teenage readers. The dynamic between Emma and Josh is also entertaining, at times hilarious and frustrating, and always interesting enough to make readers want to turn the pages and find out what happens next.

While “The Future of Us” isn’t going to be the Facebook novel, it is entertaining enough for readers to take a chance on. And if you’re a twentysomething looking for bite-sized bits of 90s nostalgia, then “The Future of Us” is as good a choice as any.

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