When Back to the Future came out in 1985, time travel involved a mad scientist, a teenager, and a cool car. Things change. I bet you didn’t know that a decade later, time travel happened via Facebook. The Future of Us, by Jay Asher and Caroyln Mackler, is set in the mid-90s, and tells the story of how Emma, a senior in high school, and her best friend and next door neighbor, Josh, download a free AOL disc on her computer. Up pops a mysterious website with a big blue header that says “Facebook.” Much to their amazement, logging on takes Emma and Josh to their own profiles created fifteen years in the future.
The premise is brilliant. Who wasn’t totally lost at eighteen and dying to know what their future would be? Here’s a refreshing addition to the young adult category that for once isn’t about vampires or queen bees. Emma and Josh both get a glimpse at their future spouses and children, and while Emma immediately sets about trying to change her fate, Josh struggles to make sure his turns out as planned (according to Facebook, he is going to marry the most beautiful girl in school). The fun part is watching their status updates, profile pictures, and hometowns change as a direct result of their actions in the present.
There are flaws in the story, of course. Why can’t Emma and Josh comment on their own walls? Can the time of day that Emma goes for a run really affect her entire fate? I think probably not. And regardless of Emma and Josh’s attempts to control their futures, it’s obvious what’s going to happen. Not that I minded one bit. The Future of Us is whimsical, optimistic, and fun to read. The book makes a convincing argument for the value of living in the present. It also made me look at my own Facebook profile and think, gosh, what would my eighteen-year-old self have thought reading this? I bet she’d be amazed. In real life, we just never know what’s going to happen.
One of the co-authors, Jay Asher, made a huge splash in 2007 with his bestseller Thirteen Reasons Why. In that book, a teenage boy receives a mysterious box with thirteen cassette tapes. The tapes are from his classmate and crush, who took her own life just two weeks prior. On the first tape, his friend explains that there were thirteen reasons that led to her decision, and he is one of the reasons. She proceeds to tell her story, which becomes a revelation about the common confusion and loneliness that affects most teenagers.