Book review: The Future Of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

It’s 1996. You’re about to log onto the Internet for the very first time.  The World Wide Web is about to be opened up to you…exciting right? Imagine though if that very first time you were faced with a strange website called Facebook, and even stranger it seems to be you updating it…well your future self that is.
That’s exactly what happens when Emma receives her first desktop from her Dad. Confused at first she calls in Josh, life long neighbour and friend to take a look. At first he’s convinced someone’s playing a prank…until they discover Emma’s friends list and realise he also has a page. As it dawns that this is themselves, fifteen years in their future, they both feel very different about what they see. While Josh can’t believe he’s married to the most popular girl in school, Emma’s concerned by her clearly miserable and lonely life. When she realises decisions she makes now can affect the future according to Facebook she becomes obsessed. But knowing the future is a dangerous thing. Changing it might be even worse.
This book appealed on so many levels I just had to get a copy as soon as it was released. I was a teen when the Internet first arrived in homes and schools and can distinctly remember loading up cd-roms and painfully waiting for dial up pages to load. The Future Of Us was certainly a nostalgia trip for me, even down to the fashions, TV shows and Discmans.
The idea of coming across Facebook before it was even invented and seeing your future life played out was genius. Who wouldn’t be tempted by that? Emma and Josh’s perplexity at the things they were posting about in the future was hilarious. If someone had described Facebook to me fifteen years ago I’d probably have thought it sounded ridiculous too.
Aside from the nostalgia I was also intrigued by the time slip element in this book. Emma becomes obsessed with changing her future and then checking its implications on Facebook and I thought this would be fascinating. Unfortunately I think a massive opportunity was missed here to make this book brilliant. The idea is fantastic, the execution is disappointing and the authors just don’t explore things enough. It’s all very surface, I wanted to know so much more. Why did this happen? What are the far-reaching repercussions? What do the characters learn from it all? The opportunity to change your future is unbelievably fascinating but sadly, all Emma comes across in being interested in is which guy she ends up with.
I also felt I just didn’t connect with either of the characters. The book is told from both Josh and Emma’s viewpoint and is written by two authors. I’ve no idea which parts where written by whom, whether they each wrote a character or contributed to both so I don’t think the issue was down to two styles not meshing. I think it’s down to a lack of depth and detailing. By the end I had no idea why this pair were as connected as they were. I also wonder how teens today will relate to this book; after all it’s aimed at them yet the most enjoyable part of it for me was the 90’s nostalgia. I’m not convinced they’ll truly get it.

If you take The Future Of Us as a piece of easy, fluffy story telling then it’s an enjoyable read. I can’t deny I flew through it in a couple of hours. If you start scratching the surface though then you realise there’s a lot of faults. Not least the ease with which Emma accepts Facebook in the first place and understands it’s from her own future. I found this an easy and entertaining enough read, but ultimately unsatisfying. I rated this book as three stars on goodreads when I finished reading it, now as I write my review I realise it has pretty big flaws and think I was possibly a little generous. If you find yourself with a copy of The Future Of Us I’d say as a quick easy read it does the job. On the other hand I wouldn’t recommend this as a must read and overall it was a disappointment.

Published January 2012 by Simon & Schuster Children’s books (UK)

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

When Clay Jenson gets home from school one day to find a package addressed to him, he has no idea that what’s inside will turn his life upside down. Because the package contains 13 cassette tapes from Hannah Barker, a girl who killed herself a few weeks ago. The rules are simple, 13 people are listed on these tapes and the package must be sent to each one in turn, because there is another set which will be made public if the rules aren’t followed. What is Clay’s involvement with Hannah, and who are the twelve other people incriminated in this young girls suicide?

I really wanted to read this book from the minute I heard about it. Suicide is such a difficult subject and to read from the perspective of someone who is at that point intrigued me. There is possibly nothing more tragic than a young person with their whole life approaching them choosing to end it all, and having suffered from pretty severe depression in my own teen years, I thought that this might be something I would really relate to.

The book begins with Clay discovering the tapes and starting to listen. Then follows the strangest narrative I have ever come across in a book. Hannah’s ‘voice’ is written in italics, with Clay responding regularly in between passages. This annoyed me a little and took quite a lot of getting used to. In one way it was interesting to read Clays immediate reaction to what he was hearing, but quite often I felt it just really interrupted the flow of Hannah’s story and wanted to say ‘shut up Clay!’ It made the whole book a little fragmented and although I did get used to it towards the end, overall I wasn’t that keen on this structure.

I also struggled to really believe in some of the plot. I’ve read some reviews that criticise Hannah’s reasons for ending her life, that it wasn’t really all that bad. I disagree. Jay Asher very cleverly describes a ‘snowball effect’ where a lot of small things build into a really huge thing. Each incident Hannah holds such resentment towards isn’t huge on it’s own (excepting a couple later in the book) but added together they become unbearable. Hannah is clearly suffering from some kind of depressive illness, and as anyone who has also experienced depression will know, small things seem huge and knowing how to deal with even the tiniest of things becomes impossible. I really did get Hannah, and how she felt things were ‘snowballing’ out of control. I thought that this was pure genius on the authors part, and I really admire him for that as its something even now I find difficult to explain.

What I did struggle with believing was that all of these people felt threatened enough to pass these tapes on. The ‘crimes’ these people are guilty of committing against Hannah escalate as the tapes progress, and become very dark. However, while the people at the beginning aren’t very nice, they haven’t done anything illegal and I can’t understand why none of them would be so shocked by the latter stories, they wouldn’t hand the tapes over to the police or an adult. I didn’t really think they had that much to loose by exposing themselves that they would be so easily blackmailed into covering for some pretty horrific criminal acts. This really irritated me to be honest.

By the end of Thirteen Reasons Why I did feel a little disappointed. I thought some of the book was fantastic, and really made the reader think about the way they treat people and how it may be interpreted. It made me sad that Hannah had been crying out for help, yet no one had seen the signs, and Hannah herself was a real and thoroughly believable character. On the other hand I found some of the plot a little too far fetched and the split narrative full of interruptions and distractions. I’m glad I read the book, and it will stay with me, I just can’t help feel it could have been more.