Book Review: "The Here And Now" by Ann Brashares

Thursday, April 03, 2014

This review has been written by Anna, the new resident YA expert & features contributor at Off The Book. To learn more about the lovely Anna, go here. Welcome! 

Title: The Here And Now
Author: Ann Brashares
Genre: YA Fiction / Sci Fi / Fantasy
Release Date: April 8, 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: NetGalley/Publisher
Buy: Amazon | Local Bookstore

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.

The Here and Now is the story of Prenna, a time immigrant who escaped the plague-ridden Earth of 2090 for a life of comfort and safety in 2014. She and her fellow time travelers are also meant to find a way to prevent the ecological devastation of the future by identifying and preventing the catalyst event for Earth’s future destruction. In the meantime, they are expected to avoid interfering with history at all costs. By extension, they are prohibited from developing any kind of intimate relationship with “time natives.” But Prenna is a teenage girl with teenage girl feelings and emotions, so nothing is that easy or that simple.

Now, here’s the thing about time travel: if you’re going to write a story that includes time travel, you’d damn well be sure the story is good enough to distract your readers from the inevitable flaws and plot holes inherent to stories that include time travel. True, any story that includes fantastic elements (and many that don’t) will require readers to suspend their disbelief, but in the case of time travel, I think that this suspension is both more important and more difficult to earn.

Unfortunately, while there’s a lot going on in The Here and Now, none of it particularly coherent or compelling. The devastation of the future would be interesting, were it relayed to readers in a more immediate way. Instead, it’s described in clunky paragraphs of obvious exposition. I wished on more than one occasion that Ann Brashares had opted to alternate between present and future, weaving the two timelines together into something dynamic and interesting.

Connected to that future devastation is what becomes a glaringly obvious theme of business vs. environment. This, too, could have been interesting, but is instead used mostly as throwaway character motivation. The same goes for the internal corruption of the time travelers’ leadership: plenty of potential followed by a disappointing lack of execution. Even the inevitable resolution to Prenna’s distress about the fate of her father (he unexpectedly stayed behind when Prenna and her mother immigrated in 2090), a plot development ripe for reader investment, is handled in a way that is insulting in its transparency.

And then there’s Ethan, and Prenna’s relationship with Ethan. On the one hand, the romantic storyline isn’t an annoying distraction from the main action of the story. On the other hand, this is because the main action of the story is mostly forgettable. On the other other hand, Ethan himself is also mostly bland and forgettable.

At one point, I held out hope that there would be a refreshingly sex-positive resolution to the will they, won’t they pull between Ethan and Prenna. Alas, the final takeaway from that aspect of the story is more or less—spoiler alert—have sex, and you’ll be at least partially responsible for a globally devastating pandemic. Oops!

To her credit, Brashares opts to embrace the idea of multiple, parallel universes rather than attempting to create a believable time loop. Personally, I find the idea of parallel universes easier to believe and easier to follow, and taking this route allowed Brashares a certain amount of leeway with her chronology and explanations. Admittedly, this leeway isn’t put to particularly good use, but I applaud the choice nonetheless.

And kudos to Brashares for explicitly describing her main character as not-white. Prenna is described as favoring the appearance of her Asian father over that of her white mother, an authorial specificity that is sadly lacking in most books. Too bad this positive is counterbalanced by the negative of a weirdly repetitive theme of fat shaming, mostly in the form of comments about how fatness is an indication of opulence and lack of control.

Two steps forward, one step back, I suppose.

At the end of the day, there are more reasons not to read this book than reasons to even consider reading this book. If you want my advice, curl up with The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants and escape the sad present of Ann Brashares for her better, more enjoyable past.

1-½ Stars

Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix, a middle grade thriller about a girl who discovers that her community has been lying to her about time and technology.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, a Newbery Award-winning time travel gem.

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith, a young adult dystopian set in an ecologically devastated Louisiana where people have self-segregated by blood-type to combat a vicious disease.

Safety Not Guaranteed, my favorite time travel story of recent memory, starring Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass.