Monday, August 25, 2014

The Here And Now by Ann Brashares

Ethan first saw the girl on April 23, 2010 when he was fishing. The air over the river seemed to change, to shimmer and quiver. Ethan was sucked into what seemed like a vortex and then thrown to the ground. After this was over, a girl, his own age was standing naked, wet and shivering on the river bank. She has what appeared to be a bruise but was in fact a number, 51714. Ethan offered her his sweatshirt and she walked away towards the bridge.

For the next two and half years Ethan thought he imagined what happened. "Until the first day of his sophomore year when the very same girl walked into his precalculus class and sat down one seat behind him."

Prenna James along with a thousand other people arrived on April 23, 2010 from the future - the year 2098. On the fourth anniversary of their arrival, April 23, 2014, sixteen year old Prenna is in a church, with the rest of her community, reciting the twelve rules they have had to learn and that are critical to their survival. Their community consists of nine leaders who make policy and twelve counselors who pass on those policies. They are refugees from future filled with blood plague - dengue fever that was spread by mosquitoes and which has decimated the world.

Prenna came here with her mother, both of them immune to the blood plague.Her father did not time travel with them, refusing at the last minute. Prenna's two younger brothers died in the third dengue fever epidemic, known as the blood plague, the year before they arrived in 2010. In this new time, Prenna is amazed by the lushness of the world around her with the variety of animals and birds.

After the ceremony Prenna and her friends, Katherine, Jeffrey Boland, Juliet Kerr, and Dexter Harvey get together in Central Park where they relax. Prenna feels alone and isolated. No one ever talks about life in Postremo or how they came to be here, what really connects them together. Instead Prenna feels more like an actor in a large stage production.
'Sometimes I only hear what we don't say. I only think the things I shouldn't think and I remember what I should forget. I hear the ghosts in this room, all the people we lost in our old life who are crying out to be remembered. But we never do remember them. The whispers of things we feel and don't say -- I hear them too."

I want to feel something. I really do. But it's only the absence I feel, just the wishing and wanting where there is nothing. I just feel lonely."
When she dances with one of the boys from her own time she thinks of Ethan Jarves. Prenna knows that Ethan suspects there is something not right about her. He has this expectant look like they have met before. Prenna suffered amnesia and does not remember the time immediately before or after her time travel meaning that she likely does not remember her brief encounter with Ethan in 2010.

One day after a false bomb scare at her school, Ethan tells her that the homeless person he knows, affectionately dubbed Ben Kenobi, wants to meet her. Ben tells her that soon there will be a "moment in time when the entire path of the future shifts" and that she may need to act. He doesn't know all the details but he knows when it will happen. He tells her there is a murder about to take place this year, on May 17, 2014 and that this one event will change the course of history and create the future that she comes from - a future in which the planet is dying and its inhabitants are succumbing to a horrible plague for which there is no cure. The man who commits the murder told Ben about it before he died but in 2014 he is still alive and planning to murder. At the time of his death, he knew what he had done, the harm that resulted and he asked Ben to prevent him from doing it. Ben tells Prenna that her people say they are here to do something to help the future be better, to prevent the plagues but in fact they are doing nothing. They are hiding here, in this time, enjoying the life they have here. Prenna now understands the significance of the number that was written on her arm when she arrived in 2010.

Prenna believes that the glasses she wears record all her conversations but they must wear them since without them their vision is poor. Since Ben removed her glasses during their conversation, the counselors have no idea what they spoke about. Mr. Robert meets with her the next day to find out waht they spoke about and to warn her away from him. Prenna tells her friend Katherine about meeting the homeless man and then Ethan tells her the strange experience he had when he was thirteen and fishing by the river. Both of these events result in another visit and warning from Mr. Robert but also the removal of her friend Katherine.

Prenna receives a phone call from Ben telling her that he traveled through the time path, twenty-four years after Prenna's group and arrived in the same place at the same time. He urges Prenna to tell Ethan who he says knows more than he's letting on and to stop wearing the glasses and taking the pills. He tells her that the rules she must follow are not for protecting the time natives (people in 2014) but for controlling Prenna's people. When Prenna tries to seek out Ben once more, she witnesses his murder and realizes his true identity.

Prenna acknowledges the truth of what Ben has told her to Ethan and they decide they need to act. But first Prenna needs to speak with her mother. This results in her being kidnapped by the counselors and taken to a farm to prevent her from acting on May 17. The reader is never really given a reason for why this is happening, but no matter, Ethan springs Prenna from her prison and they head to the storage locker where they discover the information that tells them that a key scientist, Mona Ghali, whom Ethan interned with the previous summer, is murdered by a man named Andrew Baltos at her lab in Teaneck. Ghali it turns out is working on wave energy and her work has all been stolen. Prenna and Ethan must work to prevent Mona's murder and save the future from the scourge of a deadly plague brought on by climate change.

The Here And Now starts out with a unique storyline, time travelers on a mission to go back to when a plague that is ravaging their world, began, in order to save it. There's a forbidden romance and a heroine struggling to adapt to life in a different time, experiencing rebellion at all the rules and the totalitarian type of life they lead. However, Brashares fails to develop her premise to the depth it deserves, leaving plenty of questions unanswered as the story moves forward and employing multiple coincidences and contrived events that are neither explained nor developed properly. For example why would a thousand people need to travel to an earlier time to prevent the plague? Such a large number of people would almost certainly increase the chance that someone would inadvertently affect the future in a way that leads to "uncontainable changes". How did they determine that they needed to return to 2010 and not some other year? What is Postremo - a city, a country? How did the time travel work and why were there not more travelers after the initial thousand? Can they time travel only one way? When Prenna discovers the fork in time and goes to her community, one would think these people would want to investigate her claims and act. Instead they kidnap her to prevent her from acting. No explanation is given for their behaviour other than they have gotten comfortable in their new "time".

The novel also suffers from poor pacing; after Prenna and Ethan discover who is to be murdered, they take time out to go shopping, visit the beach and play cards. The reader has to wade through these chapters to get to the climax of the novel - Prenna and Ethan's attempt to prevent Mona's murder.

Because this is an action based novel and not a long one at that, characterization is shallow. We don't know much about Ethan in particular nor Prenna's mother.

Brashare's premise for The Here And Now might have worked has she developed her ideas over the course of two or three novels, taking the effort to more carefully craft her storyline, develop her characters and work out the science.

I have never read An Brashares's immensely popular Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. I was hoping this would be an exciting read based on the unique premise. Unfortunately, it is not. The novel's ending appears to leave open the possibility of a second book.

Book Details:
The Here and Now by Ann Brashares
New York: Delacorte Press      2014
242 pp.

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