Saturday, September 12, 2015

All We Have Is Now by Lisa Schroeder

All We Have Now is about two homeless teens who struggle to come to terms with their lives in the face of an impending catastrophe that will wipe out the United States.

The novel opens approximately 28 hours, 25 minutes before an asteroid is expected to impact in the state of Idaho. The government has revealed that an asteroid coming from the direction of the sun is due to impact the Earth causing annihilation for millions and widespread destruction. People have fled the state and surrounding areas and many people have even fled the continental United States.

 Vince Mason and Emerson Steele are two homeless teens who have been living on the street for the last year and a half. In light of the impending disaster, they are considering ending their lives. With no money, no car and having left their families they have no way to escape the impact zone. Their lives have not be great up until this point. "Before, they slept in parks, in alleyways, in backyard sheds. They scrounged for food in restaurant dumpsters, or begged for money on the street. Every day, it was about survival. It was a dirty, ugly life, but they became pros at living that way. " Now with people having left Portland in an attempt to escape the asteroid, Vince and Emerson have been able to find a room in a shelter. They been able to clean themselves and not be ashamed of how they look. They decide rather than wait for the asteroid to hit they will jump off Vista Bridge also known as Suicide Bridge, which has nothing but "cold, hard pavement" beneath it.

However when they reach the bridge, they find a man waiting, presumably intending on jumping. The man introduces himself to Vince and Emerson as Carl and asks them to let him help them. After someone helped him realize his dream of being a fireman, he has helped four other people with their own wishes. But he needs one more and Vince and Emerson are that last wish. Vince tells Carl that every day since he's been on the streets he's wanted money for food, clothes and a place to stay. Carl gives Vince his wallet filled with cash and tells him "Feel rich in these final hours."

After doing this Carl stands on the bridge watching the beautiful sunset before he answers a call from his wife, Trinity. She has returned from saying good-bye to her parents and is waiting for Carl at their home. Carl tells her he gave away both his car and his wallet and Trinity tells him that her car is out of gas. He promises to try to find a way home and asks Trinity to see if she can find a car. Carl tries phoning friends but is unable to contact anyone who can help him and eventually cell service fails.

Meanwhile Emerson and Vince learn that the man who gave them the money is Carl Ragsdale, who is fifty-one years old and lives in Lake Oshwego. They wonder why he isn't with his family at this terrible time. Vince decides that he'd like to do what Carl was doing - help people, give them one last wish. The first person they encounter is a sixteen year old boy named Hayden who can sing and play guitar and who has always wanted to be in a band. After finding food at an abandoned tavern, they travel to a karaoke bar which has remained open. Hayden gets his wish to sing in front of the crowd in the bar. Having accomplished what he wanted, Hayden decides to return home.

Carl has taken to walking since he is unable to find a ride in the direction of his home. He meets Jerry, an elderly man and together they break into a bakery that Jerry's wife used to work at.  After eating pastries and drinking coffee, Jerry falls asleep and Carl is unable to awaken him. Believing he has died, he decides to take Jerry's car and drive home to Trinity. However, before he can get to the car, Carl is knocked unconscious.

The next person Emerson and Vince meet is Jackie, an unmarried career woman who was supposed to travel to Paris in October. At first Jackie can't find her car but when she does, Vince offers to drive her to a special place as a surprise. That place turns out to be a French cafe whose owner, a "good-looking twentysomething guy" named Phillipe, lets them in. While dancing and eating french pastries he and Jackie end up falling for each other. Having accomplished their mission to help yet another person, Emerson and Vince leave taking Jackie's BMW with her blessing. Their next stop is the Multnomah County Library where they read picture books and encounter a woman, Rima and her daughter, Inika who believe that everything will be back to normal in a few days.  This leads Emerson to ask Vince if he believes that there really is an asteroid.

As the deadline for the impact looms closer and closer, Carl struggles to recover from a serious concussion. Helped by a woman and her daughter who coincidentally are Emerson's mother and sister, Carl tries to return the favour and help them locate Emerson. In return he hopes to make it home to his wife.  Vince and Emerson struggle to deal not only with their personal relationship but also with the possibility that things may not be as they seem. Vince also tries to push Emerson to set things right with her mother before it's too late. But are some things just not so easily repaired.


In All We Have Is Now, Schroeder weaves two storylines together, that of Emerson and her friend Vince and that of Carl Ragsdale. Although they all meet early on in the story and then experience separate journeys, Schroeder cleverly reunites them at the novel's conclusion, showing how we are all interconnected in one way or another. Emerson's narrative is the primary one told in both prose and short poems which are quite lovely.

All We Have Is Now is story about living life to the fullest in the time we have been given. We are reminded to appreciate what we have in life and not to focus on what is missing. When Hayden meets Vince and Emerson he tells them he left home because "I-I couldn't stay there. With them. I just...I couldn't, you know? I snuck out the bathroom window." However after singing in the karaoke bar Hayden realizes that he has a family, that his parents have been good to him and that his slipping out the bathroom window was not justified. He decides to return home. and it is also about forgiveness and redemption.

Also dominant in the novel is the idea about making the most of each day we have. When Vince and Emerson meet the twelve year old twins, Kailee and Kendall who have been abandoned, they drive them home and take them to an amusement park to distract them from what is happening in their lives and on a bigger scale. Kendall tells them that she wishes things would end happily and that she's afraid about what the future holds. Vince tells them, "No, see, you guys are looking at it all wrong...The amount of time isn't important. A hundred minutes or a hundred years. Whatever, it doesn't matter. Just make it count." When Kailee responds that it's difficult to not be angry about losing out, Vince advises her " ask yourself if that's how you want to spend the rest of your life." 

Like Kailee, Carl too is struggling to deal with the possibility that everything will end. As he's eating an apple at Emerson's mother's home, he finds "all he can taste is regret." The regret is that he's found something he loves but instead of savouring it in the moment, he is focused on how he will never taste another apple again after that night.

When Emerson takes Vince to a carousel so he can experience a memory he had of his mom so long ago, she asks him if he's mad that he didn't get more time with his mother. But Vince tells her, "Maybe sometimes I am, but I really try not to be. I mean, it's wasted energy, wishing for more. I'd rather spend my time making wishes that might come true."

Throughout the novel, Vince is determined that Emerson needs to contact her mom whom she is estranged from.  One of the ways Emerson has been coping with her mother's rejection has been to ask Vince what her mother and her older sister Frankie are doing. This leads him to describe an imaginary scenario that is positive and happy. However Emerson's fear that her mother hates her is overwhelming. If she doesn't call she can pretend otherwise. "What if her mom hung up on her? What if her mom hated her so much, she didn't even want to know where she was or if she was okay? As long as she stayed out of touch, Emerson could pretend her mother missed her a tiny bit."

As the time of impact creeps closer, Vince convinces Emerson that she needs to go see her family, no matter what she believes their response will be. He doesn't want her to experience regret. "Look, I just know that once you see them, once they see you, nothing else will matter. The past is the past. It's gone, you know? It doesn't matter anymore...All we have is now. Right now."

Like Carl eating the apple, Emerson realizes that she doesn't want to die because she's come to the conclusion that she has something to live for. She has come to realize that she loves Vince and he loves her. Emerson feels "ever-increasing terror about what comes next, and anger at having to go way too soon."

Similarly, Emerson's mother, Rhonda, is also experiencing deep regret over her actions towards her daughter. Her regret is so thick that "Carl wishes he could just cut it away for her."

At a conspiracy theory meeting about the asteroid, Emerson's view begins to change with small things at first. When she is given a piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream she focuses on how delicious it tastes.When Emerson confronts the hurt she has caused her older sister, Frankie when she ran away, she is filled with regret. Vince tells her she cannot change the past and that there has been good that has come out of her choices too such as their meeting and the good they have done others in the time remaining. Emerson states, "I just can't let myself think about the stuff I wish I could change...You were right. Regret hurts."

One of the many poems which are part of Emerson's narrative, A Way of Life, expresses what Emerson has come to understand, that we must live life not looking back, nor looking ahead. Instead, "Each minute, each hour, spent doing, spent living." In contrast to this are Rhonda and Frankie, who are fighting over what has happened in the past to Emerson. As it turns out, Vince was right; Emerson's reunion with her family helps both her and them forgive and heal. Regrets are in the past.

Schroeder has written an appealing short novel with a timely message about what's important in life. It's probably impossible to live a life without some regrets. There are always difficult choices to be made each with their own path.

Book Details:
All We Have Is Now by Lisa Schroeder
Point, an imprint of Scholastic       2015
266 pp.

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