[Review] The Here and Now – Ann Brashares

Book Title:                  The Here and Now (Standalone)
Author:                          Ann Brashares
Number of pages:  288

Synopsis:

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.

(re: Goodreads @ The Here and Now by Ann Brashares)

Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:

– Depicts the post time-travel life which reads more like a contemporary romance despite having elements of science-fiction.
– Various thought-provoking elements and themes presented in a very wishful way when regarding the plausibility of the future environment.
– Basically The Prenna Show, where events unfold in favour of the protagonist with no sense of urgency and tangible consequence.
– Unsubstantiated world-building necessary to set-up the dystopian-influenced Community; ultimately leaving gaps in the narrative that may lead to further questioning. 

Initial Thoughts

Dear desk, I have marked you with the blunt force from my head. For this I apologize.

I think I enjoyed the idea of liking the novel more than actually wanting to read it. Does that make sense? I hope it does because now that this one positive is out of the way, I can now detail everything that was very off to me about this read. This might be the angriest review yet.

Full disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of The Here and Now through NetGalley for an honest review. I extend my thanks to Random House for providing me the opportunity to review this book.

Disclaimer: There may be spoilers inherent to this review from this point onward.

Afterthoughts:

So it’s like this: four years the present, a boy (Ethan) notices some shiny mystical shit by a creek and finds an almost naked, clueless fem-bot wandering aimlessly. He’s shell-shocked but offers his sweatshirt to the frigid-and-seemingly-mute girl and points her to a requested direction. Fast-forward the present; the narrative follows Prenna James who attends said chivalrous-sweater boy’s high school and lives a life of secrecy governed by the Community and their 12 Rules. Readers will skimp through a brief history lesson of Prenna’s plague-ridden post-apocalyptic wasteland of 2098 to find herself in 2014 with hopes of creating a different path; a diverging fork in the road, to change the outcome of the future so it kind of sucks less. That is the goal anyways.

Sounds okay so far. Remember those rules I mentioned? Well the only rule you need to need to really be concerned about is the last rule, number 12, which says: “We must never, under any circumstances, develop a physical or emotionally intimate relationship with any person outside the Community.” This is the crutch of the narrative. For as much world-building, hero growth, and morsels of moral conundrums you can throw at this story, what I think this book has is really just a faux-pas young-adult contemporary romance wrapped in a not-so-threatening dystopian world with apparent elements of time-travel. There’s a definite lack of urgency in delivery slapped between chapters of learning card games, eating food, and being insecure about how to truly emote (re: see rule 12) that causes me to run into troubles of appreciating the actual grit of this story. I mean, I’m all for downtime – having fun and eating the noms – but when you start with the unquestionable twelve rules of the Community and then have narrative tropes that break more than a few of them (not even by proxy of Prenna’s actions, either), things start to get muddled together and level of care depreciates.

[“For a few seconds I give in. I let myself imagine it is his cheek I feel on my hair. I imagine his hands on my waist. I imagine him holding me like somebody who really knows how to hold a person. I imagine lifting my head and seeing his eyes, which really know how to look at a person, and he is studying me in the perceptive way he does, wanting stories from me I never tell him and seeming to understand me anyway.

It’s wrong, I know, but I play out this dance with him, exquisite and slow. I play it out in my head, because that is the only place it will ever happen.”]

Considering that this novel involves time-travel… I was expecting, you know, time traveling. But what the story delves into is the post time-travel life. And frankly, that would be a fair perspective to take if it weren’t for the non-exhaustive world-building necessary to explain an overabundance of questions that should underline the novel. First and foremost: an evaluation of greater depth pertaining to the workings behind the time-travel is necessary. Even if there was a line that suggested the most ridiculous time-and-space paradox travels, I’d still attempt to run with it. So unless I missed it, I was honestly waiting for an infodump of some sort for clarity. It’s suggested that Prenna’s past life (or future?) was quite technologically sound but on the eve of environmental concerns coupled with widespread biological pandemic, they couldn’t have the foresight to consider emulating some sort of bio-hazardous dome life of sorts. I’m not even going to touch the fact that there’s so much wishy-washy science behind the disease that killed mostly everyone.

[“Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. It has. It is real. I am real. I am not some fabrication, out of nothing and nowhere, floating through time. I had a real family. I belonged somewhere.”]

But no, this future civilization found a way to send a swarm of people (many of which are flawed teenagers with the usual irrational decision making skills) but didn’t really describe how selection was made in the decision to follow-through with who went and who was left behind. Furthermore, upon arrival, they’re somehow integrated into society with the resources necessary to host parties and build monitoring glasses to keep tabs on their kind. Remember when Prenna came into this time-period relatively naked? Hm… To further this, there’s a sense that this Community is full of threatening baddies that take people who misbehave to some unknown place of no return but that’s really hearsay than anything. But more importantly, there was no value added from this whole side-story-scary-vibe-from-community-sequence-thing. So the Community goons are haunting individuals for poor decisions that threaten their existence? Have no fear, Prenna is here! – with bad decisions – because honestly, it’s her own actions that get her caught up with the Community enforcement. How did it happen you ask? She wanted a change of clothes. How does this segment end you ask? Ethan bails her out by having an electronic tracker signal placed on her. Do we ever really see more of these baddies? Not really, so what’s the point?

Sigh. A quick pause here because I just can’t…

Then you consider the apparent evolution of the English language so much that in traveling back in time… you can distinguish the enunciation of words between the everyday and the travellers. Now I’m no savvy linguistic major or anything but even in a hundred years, past or future, it doesn’t seem radical enough for the dialect or common tongue to be that much of a variant. I mean if a word was created which translates to YOLO version 5, then maybe I can see that. But I digress.  There are more areas that lack cohesiveness in delivering these elements that I was expecting some sort of infodump – rather, hoping for one – to validate it in such a way that even if it was a tacky explanation, it would be a provisional reason to grab hold of.

[“What if the future doesn’t want to be changed? What if it wants what it wants? What if it makes no difference what any of us do, whether we are heroes or cowards?”]

By turning a blind eye and continuing on with the narrative, it makes the follow-up less attractive in terms of conviction. Actually, a lot of it didn’t make sense to me in terms of pacing. It begins very dystopian and follows through with conversations with a mysterious homeless man that gives information about “the fork in the road” to save the future that occurs in just a few days time. Along with the Community being enraged by Prenna’s actions questioning the efficacy of the rules and shit, she’s ticked the rebellious box of being a heroine, and has garnered attention and being sought out by enforcement. That’s fine. Enter the next hundreds of pages of hangout sessions at the beach, eating food, and playing cards. What the hell? Not to mention that in order to reach this point, Ethan is pretty much a character used for the novelty to bail Prenna out of unfortunate situations. She gets caught and housed in some random place? No problem, he put an electronic tracker on her. She doesn’t want to make a loud escape? No problem, he has a glass cutter. There’s coincidence and then there’s utter convenience. I can forgo the fact that he had a fake identification card since that’s a reasonable cop-out but to be the jack-of-all-trades and have all the right tools when Prenna’s in a dire situation. Just…no.

The narrative ultimately drives the taboo-relationship involving Prenna’s continual internal struggle of being able to live her life while following the rules – discrediting the likely hundreds of thousands of people back in the future. Yet even through her desires for more, I couldn’t give two cents to care for their romantic development or less-than-stellar bantering. Speaking to their relationship specifically, it’s not exactly insta-love but at the same time…it is. Prenna hides her emotions knowingly while Ethan is assumed to be in love with her, a girl who for four-years hasn’t really held up a true conversation with him – but he’s held onto this hope. There’s no back story for these two. It just begins with the Creek and flourishes on their escapade through the beachside in their tacky journey. And to me, Prenna’s the downfall of it all. She’s slated to be an intelligible girl who was selected to travel back in time despite having asthma (notwithstanding pertinent information on its severity), yet she proceeds with all this dumb shit that puts her in a fickle position and pretty much has Ethan running around like a dog to save her. Is this the trending expectation of love nowadays? I hope not. Alternatively, she knows the glasses are used for monitoring purposes yet she divulges her plans while wearing said glasses to her best friend (Katherine)? I can understand acting out of concern and friendship as love is blinding. But Prenna is blind without just cause; a distinct difference.

[“When you ask someone a question, it’s an invitation for them to ask you a question, and I could never afford that. It was one question of thousands I hadn’t let myself ask.”]

With more than one inadequate decision made by our protagonist, the opportunity for suspenseful development considering the nature of their people is lost. I mean, what happened to [name of minor character goes here]? Various characters are introduced to drive certain elements; whether they are Community-related or fork-in-the-road-related but none of which add much value to the plot itself than to simply elongate the dialogue further. In either situation, they were present when Prenna questioned certain elements but nothing more. By having one-dimension characters that are also void of tangible urgency and consequence, the setting itself becomes completely unbelievable and what’s left is just a weekend joyride with often predictable plotting that doesn’t really amount to much.

The only aspect that I cared for and wished more came out of it was her letters to her brother. I can’t pinpoint what I particularly liked about it considering the potential confusion involved with time paradoxes and aging (as it wasn’t clearly defined) but I appreciated its raw and honest feel to it. And this might sound like its contradictory, but I didn’t find anything detracting as far as writing style and the like since it was relatively easy to read. It was more of the choices and liberties taken in approaching the narrative considering certain key factors were void of detailed explanation that I wasn’t a fan of.

By the same measure, there is potential in truthfulness with the themes this novel attempt to dabble in but presented in a very wishful and unrounded way that detracts from making it a compelling read. With moments of philosophical moralities being questioned, it does have that thought-provoking edge if elements were woven better throughout the length of the narrative. But otherwise, this story is pretty much The Prenna Show as it basically accounts her days having fun hanging out with a boy and doing budding-relationship stuff. As a reader, we’d be expecting that in order to see the fruits of time-travels labour; they’d travel back into the future to see their actions. But for Prenna, the now is much more present, much more real, and much more important; leading to the irresolute ending.

[“No matter how our hearts break, we bend toward life, don’t we? We bend toward hope.”]

//Review ends here.

Oh man I’m so late with this ARC review. Excuse for the sake of excuses: this took extremely long because I had to pause this book multiple times. But I’m a trooper and I stuck it out! Though, I’m not sure if it was a good or bad thing…

Cheers,
Joey

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