Imagine you are 16 years old in 1996. Your dad gives you your first computer and your best friend brings over a CD-ROM that allows you to access AOL. You download AOL, log on and find yourself on a website called facebook. This website is unlike anything you've ever seen mainly because it seems to have pages of personal information - information about you - in the future!
This scenario is exactly what happens to Emma Nelson and Josh Templeton in The Future of Us. Emma downloads AOL from Josh's CD-ROM, onto her computer and inexplicably she is able to access her facebook account 15 years into the future when she is 31 years old. Of course, Emma and Josh have no concept of what facebook is and at first both of them believe the entire thing is a prank. But it soon becomes evident that this is no prank. Their pictures look like them, only older, and there is plenty of personal information such as pictures from high school, who they work for and more importantly, who they are married to that suggest this is for real.
The novel follows Emma and Josh over the period of six days as they struggle to come to terms with what they learn about their lives in the distant future. Told in alternating points of view, Emma and Josh discover that what they do in the present has ripple effects in their future lives. Based on what she sees on facebook, Emma discovers that her future is not a happy one. Josh, appears at first glance, to have secured for himself a happy, easy life, married to the most attractive girl in his high school and working for her father.
Emma soon discovers that every time she logs onto her computer, her facebook status changes, depending upon the choices she has made that day. Emma immediately sets about trying to manipulate her future into a happier one. But it seems, no matter what she does, she is always destined to be unhappy.
Although Josh assumes he's happy in the future, his facebook page is more vague about what his life is really like. While it seems that marrying the prettiest girl in the school might be wonderful, the more he learns about his future, the more he wonders. And when Josh starts to date Sydney, it just feels wrong. Is it because it's too soon in their lives or is there another reason?
Both Emma and Josh struggle to understand the choices they've made in their future lives. The reader learns almost immediately that Emma and Josh have known each other since they were little kids, spending all their time together. But during the previous year things changed when Josh developed a crush on Emma, and she didn't have the same feelings for him. This drove them apart and their relationship has become awkward and strained. Suddenly, with them spending time together checking their facebook, they begin to grow close again.
Josh tries to make Emma understand that she doesn't have enough information about the future to know fully what has happened and why things aren't working out. He tries to discourage Emma from attempting to manipulate her future. He is also afraid of how Emma's actions will impact his future life which appears to be a happy one.
Eventually both Josh and Emma must confront that fact that they will only be happy in their future life if they remain true to themselves in the present and if they are honest about how they feel towards one another. Emma tends to date guys based on their physical appearance - a pattern that she apparently takes into adulthood. Emma begins to realize that things are wrong in her future not only because of things she is doing now but also because of what she isn't doing.
The Future of Us is a wonderful story based on a brilliant idea that really works. Asher and Mackler explore the concept of happiness and how our choices affect us and those around us throughout life.
This book will appeal to adults in the thirty-something age bracket because they will have been teens in the mid 1990's and will be able to identify with how different society was before the rise of "social media". They will be able to identify with the "what if" this happened to me!
One item that more tech savvy readers will want to overlook is the believability of a computer in 1996 being able to load a facebook page as it exists in 2011 via dial up. I doubt that capability would have existed in 1996.
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Caroly Mackler
New York: Penguin Group 2011