It's 1996, and less than half of all American high school students have ever used the Internet.
They power up and log on--and discover themselves on Facebook, fifteen years in the future.
Everybody wonders what their Destiny will be. Josh and Emma are about to find out.
I could not put this book down.
I couldn’t. I had to know what was going to happen next. This level of tension-building is a rarity and a delight, and Asher and Mackler have perfected it in “The Future of Us”.
The story starts with a basic premise—two high school students growing up in the nineties put an AOL start-up disk into their computer, only to find themselves face to face with their futures via a website that won’t be invented for another fifteen years—Facebook. From there, the book gets much more complicated as Emma and Josh, once-upon-a-time best friends, turned chilly neighbors, are forced examine how their actions, both large and minute, affect their lives. And what begins as a series of experiments on the part of one of them turns into a lesson in causality for them both as their lives begin to change. They are forced to question everything: their desires, their fears, their actions and, perhaps most interestingly, their inactions.
This aspect of the story was especially fascinating to me—how, by choosing inaction, we are affecting the future in a very real way. A great example of this is the scene in Josh’s Peer Issues class. Josh's teacher asks the class what they think the appropriate behavior is when a boy and a girl are moving forward sexually and the boy notices that the girl is obviously upset. Many of the students agree that the boy should stop, at least to ask if everything is okay, but one of the boys takes the stance that he shouldn’t have to stop if a problem hasn’t been articulated. Now, what’s wonderful about this scene—besides the fact that these students are having a conversation that most people have thought about but rarely feel comfortable discussing—is the fact that Josh wants to speak up, but second guesses himself. Josh wants to argue with the boy, to tell him why he disagrees, but, as is common with Josh's character, he hesitates to speak his mind. And while watching this scene unfold, in a book that is all about how our present actions affect the future, it was hard not to think about causality: if Josh speaks up, how will that affect the future? How will it affect the future if he remains silent? Not only does Josh’s potential action or inaction affect his own life (if he doesn’t speak up, he’ll be disappointed with himself for not being brave enough/if he does speak up, he might get into a fight), it also has a potential effect on the boy arguing that it’s okay to move forward sexually if his partner is visibly upset. If Josh speaks up, the boy might change his mind; he might view past sexual situations with a new perspective; he might avoid situations in the future where he could hurt someone by misinterpreting (or choosing not to pay attention to) her feelings. Lastly, if Josh speaks up, it might affect the lives of the girls in the class who’ve been in the situation the teacher described, and who feared there wasn’t a boy out there who would support or understand their perspective.
So many things hinge on Josh’s decision. So many possibilities hang in the balance as he struggles to find his voice. This is the beauty, and the subtlety of “The Future of Us”—the illustration of how each time we make a choice, either to speak or not to speak, to act or not to act, that choice causes ripples of change in our lives, the lives of others, and in ourselves. It was impossible to come away from this book without thinking about my own choices, my actions, inactions, and how they've affected my life. It was impossible to come away without a conviction to be more aware of how each of my choices affected others and myself. And all the while, Asher and Mackler have evoked this conscientiousness while giving me a story that is both sweet and heartbreaking, hilarious and profound, and, as previously mentioned, effectively impossible to put down.