Author: Ann Brashares
Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: April 2014
Hardcover: 242 Pages
An unforgettable epic romantic thriller about a girl from the future who might be able to save the world . . . if she lets go of the one thing she’s found to hold on to.
Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.
This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.
Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.
But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.
From Ann Brashares, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, The Here and Now is thrilling, exhilarating, haunting, and heartbreaking—and a must-read novel of the year.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel (but I guess could be part of a series)
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print ARC
Why did I read this book: Because, even though the cover copy sounds ridiculous (NEVER FALL IN LOVE!), I thought the story sounded like it had some potential. Plus, I’ve never read the Traveling Pants books and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And on a superficial note, I like the cover.
In the years leading up to 2100, the human population is wiped out by a deadly blood plague carried by mosquitoes. As the world falls apart, a sliver of hope remains for a small group of immune survivors. Time travel is possible, and 1,000 humans are sent back nearly a century in order to live quietly outside of their timestream – to remain unobtrusive, to observe, to live out small days in peace and plenty. (Or something like that, but I’ll get to the ridiculously crap motivations in a second.)
Prenna James is one of these “travelers” who has made the trip back in time, though she’s lucky to have been selected at all (her mother’s medical skill and Prenna’s own high IQ scores outweighed the risk posed by Prenna’s asthma). It has been four years since Prenna and her kind have arrived in the early twenty-first century, but their community remains as insular as ever. Now seventeen, Prenna chafes at the rules imposed by her society elders. Particularly rule 12:
WE MUST NEVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, DEVELOP A PHYSICALLY OR EMOTIONALLY INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WITH ANY PERSON OUTSIDE OF THE COMMUNITY.
This is an especially hard rule to observe as Prenna and the rest of her fellow classmates attend public high school – and Prenna’s friend, the lovable physics geek/computer hacker/everyone’s BFF Ethan Jarves makes it sooooo hard to resist.
But Prenna also chafes at the other rules imposed by the community leaders, especially when she is told by a homeless man (affectionately named Ben Kenobi by Ethan) that the Community is corrupt and that she must stop the bad thing from happening on 5/17/14. Incidentally, those are the numbers Prenna had scrawled on her arm when she first arrived in the year 2010 as a naked tween with no memory. It’s also the first time Ethan met Prenna and – like, duh – instantly fell in love with her.
Something very bad is going to happen on 5/17/14 that will change the course of history, and will set the world on its tragic collision course with the incurable mosquito epidemic. It is up to Prenna and Ethan to evade the Community elders and Stop The Thing From Happening… or else.
The Here and Now is the new novel from bestselling author Ann Brashares of the hit Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series and marks what I believe is her first foray into the realm of speculative fiction, time travel, and YA dystopia.
And, folks, I’m sorry to say that it isn’t good. In fact, The Here and Now is very, very not good.
This quick read is built on contrivance and deus ex machina; it features two bland protagonists with an even more tasteless insta-romance. And, oh yeah, the story makes no sense. Most damning of all is the fact that The Here and Now is meant to be a teen science fiction novel, featuring time travel, an apocalyptic future, and a dystopian-ish past society. Unfortunately, any speculative fiction aspects of the book are barely developed, completely arbitrary, and are never explained – leaving one with the impression that this book was written solely to capitalize on Trends in YA. Unsuccessfully.
Suffice it to say, I was not a fan of The Here and Now.
The premise of the novel is intriguing – a future world ravaged by plague plus time travel!? Forbidden romance? Sure, that’s pretty cool! Unfortunately, the lack of any actual answers, explanation or rationalization renders any inherent interest in the premise moot. Let’s examine the premise on a very superficial level: Prenna comes from a future where time travel is possible. That’s a pretty interesting subject, right? When the story heats up and it turns out a scientist is the at the crux of the fork in time that will lead to a superplague destined to doom humanity, one would expect that said scientist’s research might have something to do with biological agents or disease, or time travel. That’s a rational supposition, right?
WRONG. There is no explanation for time travel. How does it happen? WHY does it happen? There is no explanation for the genesis of the Community of time travelers, just there is no rationalization for their choice of 2010 as a home. How is it possible that Prenna is from a future where people can go back in time to 2010 (why 2010??? WHY NOT?!), but cannot erect a force field or find some form of immunization for a mosquito-borne illness? The only “answers” delivered in The Here and Now involve a sorta-kinda paradoxical Traveler (the very first, and long supposed as lost, traveler), except the implications of said Traveler are never actually adequately explained nor explored.
There’s also the problem that Prenna and Ethan don’t actually prevent the Bad Thing From Happening – aka, the central conflict of the book, the catalyst for future disaster remains unchanged. Even supposing that the smaller changes that Prenna and Ethan affect on the timestream would prevent the plague future from happening, Brashares clearly has no interest in exploring those consequences. Instead, the book alternates between clunky chunks of info-dumping exposition (see quotes below) in the form of conversations between Prenna and Ethan, and a remarkably poorly-written romance at the beach. (Just because the world is ending doesn’t mean that Prenna and Ethan can’t go shopping for clothes, learn how to play cards, and roll around on the sand!)
Of course, this brings me to the problem with the characters and romantic angle of the novel. The Here and Now focuses on romance of the instalove/I’ve always loved you contrivance – from the first time that Ethan sees naked, beautiful, mermaid-like (Ethan’s description) Prenna emerge from thin air, he’s been in love with her. And, boy, does he like to save her from herself – Prenna realizes her super special glasses are actually surveillance devices? Ethan will get rid of ’em (because Prenna obviously can’t do that herself)! When that plan doesn’t work out and Prenna’s imprisoned by her community leaders? No problem, Ethan will break her out! Prenna needs to preserve super sensitive top secret files to save the future? Ethan is a master hacker AND scientist with all the right connections to the important people! Prenna wants a beachside sangria just because? Ethan’s got a fake ID and a sweet ride!
In other words: Ethan exists to bail Prenna out, and to provide some of the most tepid, ridiculous manufactured romantic scenes (with kissing, beachside cuddling and lots of blushing but no sexy times) I have read in a very long time.
Another issue that should be mentioned is the deus ex machina factor. See, Prenna and Ethan don’t actually do any detective work or solve anything for themselves. They are given a storage locker by Ben Kenobi that magically contains piles of money, stacks of newspapers, and a ton of research into the date of the Bad Thing that dooms the world as well as the first patients who exhibit symptoms of the blood plague. All Prenna and Ethan have to do are follow the notes and stop the thing from happening… which they fail at, by the way.
There’s also the fact that Prenna’s Community leaders are one-note villains who apparently are grossly incompetent in addition to being controlling for controlling’s sake – more interested in spying on their younglings with clunky surveillance devices as opposed to stopping the future outbreak that will doom humanity. There’s the ludicrous ending of the book, which is manufactured to keep Prenna and Ethan apart because if they are Intimate, they could unleash the Plague.
There are so many other things, but frankly I’m tired of reflecting on The Here and Now and don’t want to waste any more of my time, or your time, dear readers.
My advice to you? Stay far, far away from this poorly executed novel.
Notable Quotes/Parts: How about a survey of some of the awesome infodumpy exposition conversations throughout?
On future technology:
“What do you mean by ‘memory banks’?”
“It stars soon, like in the next three years, if I’m remembering my history lessons right,” I tell him. “People start banking their memories. It’s very simple. You have the technology right now – everyone does who has a phone, basically. It’s the same principle the counselors use for our glasses. If you hold up your phone and keep the movie camera on for every waking hour, you can record everything you do and everything you see and everything you hear. Which would be dumb and cumbersome and you wouldn’t do it, but you get the idea.”
(This passage goes on for a page of history lesson, mind you.) How about a talk regarding inflation?
“The US gave up on the dollar and made a new currency by the early sxties, and another one by the late sixties. Goldbacks was the name of the money we used when I was little. None of it kept is value, and anyway, by then you couldn’t by a doughnut at any price. The old green dollars were mostly destroyed, I guess. But I remember seeing them around once in a while. I even remember burning them in the fireplace. They were useless otherwise.”
How about a thinly veiled Environmental Message?
“But people here have strange ideas about what to do to help. There is Earth Day and all kinds of green products that make people feel good – as though organic cotton sheets and hemp socks are going to do the trick. But nobody does the hard things. Not if it costs them anything. Nobody calls for any real sacrifices.
When we first got here, [our leaders] acted like they were the Founding Fathers of the USA or something, bold and innovative. I believed it at first, but it wasn’t true. Everything they did was for secrecy and manipulation […] they missed a very big thing, which was freedom. We had secrets to keep and scripts to follow, but no freedom at all. I don’t think Benjamin Franklin would have approved of that.”
Or, my favorite, the desperate and anachronistic love affair with PRINTED PAPER?
“I don’t think there was any news printed on paper after the early twenties,” I say.
“Unbelievable,” he says again. “So they went purely digital after that? […] That’s why I’m surprised to see all this paper,” Ethan says. “I mean, even right now newspaper is kind of antique. I’d figured he’d have everything saved on some insane kind of drive or memory device. How much easier it would be to transport and preserve it than paper…”
I am not so surprised. My father loved paper, even from before. “Think about it,” I say. “A paper is na object. An actual thing. It can’t be modified, overwritten, updated, refreshed, hacked or anything else. It is fragile, but it’s a snapshot of history that hasn’t been messed with. it’s one version of history we know happened […] For now people are thrilled about everything digital, endless data farms, your own piece of the cloud and all that. Nobdy has much respect for paper at the moment, but I think the excitement kind of dies down after a while,” I tell him. “As time goes on I think people, definitely my father, come back around to the respect of the power of actual things you can actually touch.”
(Never mind the fact that the day is saved thanks to hacking skills and moving files to a remote server later in the novel. Or that the newspapers could theoretically do the Back to the Future thing. Or that in the next breath there are those great iMemory machines that Prenna discusses in depth. Or the burning of paper for fireplaces, which Prenna has already discussed at length… I’ll stop now.)
Rating: 4 – Bad.
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