Review: The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. RazorBill, a member of Penguin Group. 2011. Reviewed from review copy from publisher.

The Plot: It’s 1996 and Emma Nelson, 16, just got a new computer. She takes an AOL CD-ROM and downloads the program using dial up; a few hours later, she is on-line looking at something with an odd name. Facebook. Even odder, there’s a photo of a woman who looks like her, only older. An Emma Nelson Jones, “contemplating highlights,” married to someone named Jordan Jones Jr. This Emma is a graduate of Lake Forest High School — Emma goes to Lake Forest High School — and has a birth date of July 24, Emma’s birthday. What is going on? Who is Jordan Jones Jr.?

As Emma tries to figure out what is going on, she shows her next door neighbor, Josh, her ‘Facebook’ and he looks at his which shows an older Josh married to the prettiest girl in school, with three cute kids and an amazing  house.

Is this a joke — or a real look into the future? And if it is the future, can it be changed?

The Good: Emma and Josh tell the story in alternating chapters. They glimpse their future, but it’s a future that changes, sometimes for very small reasons and in subtle ways. One day, Emma’s Facebook talks about eating the comfort food mac’n’cheese; 1996 Emma eats mac’n’cheese when angry; and when 1996 Emma checks in on Facebook, future Emma now talks about her comfort food being lasagna. For no obvious reason, Josh’s future children change (a son and twin girls, no, a baby on the way, no, twins) while his future wife, home, and career always remain the same.

Knowing their future also impacts their present: Josh looks at the pretty popular girl who he has never even said “hello” to and wonders why she keeps showing up in his future. Knowing he is going to marry her gives Josh the courage to talk with her. Emma is jealous of the winning life Josh seems destined to have, while she has ever-changing spouses and ever-changing homes that don’t reflect any of the desires or dreams she has in the present.

What Emma and Josh learn that is more important than the butterfly theory is, well, the attitude theory. What is one’s attitude towards life? How does that shape present and future choices and actions?

Aside from the question of “the future of us”, The Future of Us is fun to read to because of all the 1996 references in Emma and Josh’s present, as well as to see how the two react to the future world– a world they see only via Facebook pages. What is it with all the updates about food?

13 thoughts on “Review: The Future of Us

  1. The book sounds really great. But one thing really threw me in your summary of it-the names. Emma and Jake are the names of teenagers (or even younger children) now, not teenagers in 1996. Just to check my sense of things (I’m a few years older than those characters are, and I teach undergraduates, so I have a pretty good sense of the shifting popularity of names), I looked at the SSA website for popular baby names. Emma didn’t make the top 50 names for girls in 1980 (it wasn’t even in the top 100 until 1993). Jacob was number 43 for boys (and I knew a Jake in high school), but it still feels much more like a contemporary name than one from the mid-90s (Jacob hit the top 10 names for boys in 1993 and has been number 1 since 1999).

    I’m really curious as to why the authors would have made that choice. They wanted to give current readers something familiar in the distant world that was the mid-90s? There’s some extra time-travel going on that you didn’t want to spoil us on?


  2. David, interesting about the names. And there have been some books were I’ve had that “was that a name then?” I guess theoretically they could be names, but it’s an interesting point not just for this book. I sometimes read current books with names that are popular now, not fifteen/sixteen years ago, and wonder about the point you make: that it’s about what is now, not then.


  3. Names, especially for women, go in and out of popularity. This site is a great way to see how names rise and fall in popularity. Judith was a really common name for baby girls in the late 40s/early 50s, but you’ll find very few women under 50 or so with the name. On the other hand, you’ll find very few Madisons over 20. There are a few classic names that never really go out of style (and trends in men’s names change much more slowly), but most women’s names are pretty closely tied to about a 20-year era, usually with a dramatic peak. If you saw that a woman was named Heather, I bet you could immediately peg her approximate age.

    I’d be interested to know what the process for a writer is in picking a name. I mean, if you were setting a book in the late 70s, a very historically appropriate name for a teenage girl would be Deborah or Debbie. But would that be too fixed to a generation? Would it be hard for a teenager to relate to a character if the only women with that name they’d met are in their 40s and 50s? Is it only nit-picking adults like me who would care if you named the character Samantha, which was an uncommon name for babies born in the early 60s, but very popular in the mid-nineties, when current teenagers were born?


  4. This was fun to read, but I felt pretty strongly that it was written for me (1997 high school graduate) and not the teens in purports to be for. I don’t think teenagers have any interest in reading the boring status updates of thirtysomethings. There’s nothing wrong with that in a book, but this is packaged as YA, and it seems silly.

    Drawing from my goodreads review: the cultural references were totally over the top, but fun, and I thought they were basically accurate except for the several references to DVDs, which weren’t out yet and weren’t a big deal for another year or two after that. (I noted the names, too.)

    I willingly, laughingly, suspended my disbelief when I thought about trying to use Facebook on a 1996 dialup connection.


  5. David, now I want to do an entire post about people’s names. Like how I doubt any girl was named Madison before the film, Splash. And I read once (I may need to google it…) something about the history of how names spread through culture, the time frame between, say, the film splash and children being named Madison, or how Highlander accounts for the popularity of Connor. Or anyone being named Vanessa before the 1720s. It’s funny you say the name Judith, as I went to school with a Judith so there is one who is under 50! Because it also gets into what is popular/typical, and geography/background, as well as the difference between impossible versus unlikely.

    Michelle, I’ll be on the lookout for your review.

    Wendy, my teen self would have been curious as heck to know what my future self was doing! Goodness knows how that teen me would judge the current me, because, well, teens aren’t aware of the lifetime of twists, turns, challenges, and life experience that creates the real adult as opposed to the fantasy adult. I remember asking such questions of ouija boards, going to get my palm read, playing around with tarot cards. Why not future FB?


  6. I’m pretty sure I read that same article, or one a lot like it. There are other odd factors in popularity, too. So if you look at the popularity of Madison, it’s closely tracked to the popularity of Madeline. There is something about certain sounds that just appeal to parents at the same time. Look at all the J names in the 70s and 80s (Jennifer, Jessica, Jason, Joshua). And people aren’t even conscious of those trends. I’ve always been David B- as opposed to David C or David S; it was the most common name for guys at my college when I was there. But my parents had no idea it was popular when they named me; they just liked the sound of the name. And you’re right about the regional and social groups playing a role, too.

    I find playing around with the site I linked above and the SSA site ( to be really fascinating. For example, just entering a single letter into the baby name voyager site can show a dramatic rise and fall in popularity (especially if you limit it to girls’ names).


  7. Oh, I definitely think teenagers would be curious about their future selves, that Emma and Jake personally would want to read their own status updates. I mean that I think the teen readers of this book would probably find the actual status updates in the book boring. Hell, I find most thirtysomething status updates boring.


  8. David, or the “ash” sound for names! And “cat” / “kate” for girls, that even makes itself into so many fantasies.

    Wendy, Emma’s initial reaction (if I remember) to the updates was a bit who-cares. It was the “spoilers” (who do i marry, where do i live) that drove her.

    Belgie, thanks1


  9. This was a fantastic review regarding a fantastic book!
    I am surprised, well possibly not, that most comments are about a name. Had you gone back
    and checked your error people may have commented on the book instead of a name.
    But like so many comments on blogs THEY DON’T CARE except to just babble on.
    As you mentioned at first his name was JOSH. Then when you mentioned The Good: You put Emma and Jake(instead of Josh).
    Again a fantastic review of a deserving book!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s