I know that’s a question many of us have pondered. I’ve often seen messages “to my younger self”: what people would tell their high school-age selves if they could send messages back in time. Imagine this scenario: what if, fifteen years ago, you had been able to log into Facebook to see your profile page from today?
That’s the premise of The Future of Us, a new young adult book by Jay Asher and Carolyn Macker. Asher and Macker take turns telling the story from the point of view of two kids: Emma Nelson, who just got a brand-new computer, and Josh Templeton, her neighbor and long-time friend who brought her over an AOL CD (“One hundred free hours!”) to try out.
Think back to 1996: less than half of American high school students have used the internet. Facebook is years in the future. Cell phones haven’t become ubiquitous yet. Nobody texts, tweets, or blogs.
When Emma dials into AOL for the first time, the screen pops up a (familiar to us) blue and white box, asking for her username and password. After logging in, Emma finds herself looking at a site called Facebook, showing some thirty-ish woman named Emma Nelson Jones. Her status says simply: “Contemplating highlights.”
Josh assumes that somebody’s pranking her — those photos of the “good ole days” could have been scanned from photos in her locker, and maybe some computer whiz at school knew how to drum up a fake website, modify some photos to look like an older version of Emma. But if they were playing a joke about her future, why would it be so … mundane? Who’s this “Jordan Jones Jr.” that she supposedly marries?
Pretty soon, though, they’re both convinced: Facebook is a window into their futures. Josh is married to Sydney Mills, the most popular girl in school (whom he’s never spoken to), and appears to have a wonderful life. Emma, on the other hand, seems to be miserable — and that’s when she realizes that the things she does in the present affect her future. She tries to take her future into her own hands, while Josh struggles to preserve his ideal future with Sydney.
It’s a fascinating idea, and an interesting way to play with what is, in essence, time travel. Although Emma and Josh don’t travel into the future, this glimpse of it lets them see how their actions affect their lives in fifteen years. Asher and Mackler both put their own perspectives into the story. Asher says that he thinks his current life would look great to his teenage self, so he’d probably be nervous about messing it up. Mackler said as a teen she stressed out about boys and heartbreak, and maybe a glimpse at her future would have helped her past some of the rejection.
At the same time, I think they both do a good job of showing how assumptions and outward perceptions can be wrong. As Josh gets to know Sydney, he wonders if she’s really the girl of his dreams. Emma, meanwhile, is convinced that she can fix her future, but every time she logs on it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
The book is definitely intended for teens — it’s about teen romances and awkward friendships, high school peer pressure and trying to figure things out. There’s talk about sex and a bit of profanity, about what you would expect if you spent a few days at a typical high school. However, I think it’s a book that adults would enjoy as well, particularly because we remember a time before Facebook. In fact, I was in still in high school not too long before 1996, and I remember going off to college and discovering the World Wide Web.
There are some references that I’m not sure if kids today would get, but help to put you into the mid-’90s. Rumors about whether Ellen is gay, for instance, or Emma’s insistence that she must be crazy because she’s putting all these personal things about her life on the internet. Asher and Mackler are careful not to overdo it, but we get little bits and pieces of the pop culture of the time, things that we were into when we were teens.
Although it’s never really explained why Emma and Josh end up on Facebook, it’s not really necessary. If you just suspend your disbelief on that point and go with it, the rest of it is a pretty convincing story about how two kids would react to suddenly getting a glimpse of their future selves. I thought the characters in the book were well-drawn, and it helped to have Asher and Mackler trade off because Josh and Emma each have their own distinct voices. I really enjoyed reading it, and I imagine that kids today who are hooked on Facebook might find it interesting, too, imagining checking in on themselves fifteen years down the road.
For more about the book, you can visit, appropriately enough, its Facebook page. One caveat: there’s a book trailer on the page which the publisher had asked if we wanted to run here on GeekDad. It’s cute, but I turned them down because I felt like it’s targeted at teen girls and would probably limit the audience for the book. Yes, there’s some relationship drama in the book, as I’ve come to expect from most YA fiction, but I think the book itself would appeal to more than just the Emmas of the world. Maybe it’d be nice if there were another trailer done from Josh’s point of view.
The Future of Us came out last week and is available from Amazon or other bookstores.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this book.