Title: The Here and Now
Author: Ann Brashares
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: April 8, 2014.
I had high hopes for this particular science fiction YA book. I’d seen it at the bookstore, at the library, and in the hands of some of the students at the school where I student taught, and I was looking forward to reading it. I still did enjoy it, just not nearly as much as I wanted to.
A brief summary from the author’s website (the same author who wrote the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, funnily enough):
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.
As the summary implies, the basic premise of the book is that Prenna is a visitor from the future who came with a mass of other people from the late 2090s in order to escape a plague that had taken over the planet, along with a shortage of food, global warming, and a variety of other catastrophes. They – the time travelers – had a certain set of rules to live by, ones which seemed dystopian-esque and Big Brother-like in nature. Prenna, and a non-time traveling boy named Ethan, get involved with a plot to change the future, which inevitably leads to issues with Prenna’s government-ish group of people.
The thing I liked most about this book was that certain scenes were really very touching. One between Prenna and her father, which I won’t say much about because I don’t want to spoil it, was especially moving. There’s another scene near the beginning of the book where Prenna is playing cards with Ethan, but card games are one thing that she never learned properly, coming from the future – so he teaches her, without anyone stating that she needed to learn. I have a weird fondness for that scene, because I think it really brought both of the characters’ vulnerabilities to light.
What I didn’t like about this book was that, for one, it was all too easy. Prenna and Ethan never really had much trouble with their mission. I won’t get into details, but it seemed like, for a potentially world-saving endeavor, they should have had a bit more difficulty. Plus, all of the time travel made no sense. If they changed the future, wouldn’t Prenna never have come back to the past in the first place? Time stream maneuvering in literature is always murky, but this book left definite plot holes open in terms of logistics. Other elements of the novel were unnecessarily confusing as well. For example, Ethan calls Prenna her name, but also nicknames like “Penny” and “Henny,” the latter of which I didn’t understand at all. A repeated typo, maybe? The origin of this nickname was never explained.
The last thing that bothered me about the book was that this was billed as a romance, but it wasn’t romantic in the least. One of the rules of the time travelers is that they aren’t allowed intimate relationships with people other than fellow time travelers. Prenna, of course, gets involved with Ethan. But the strange rule is about physical intimacy, so the main conflict of the novel seemed to become whether or not Prenna should sleep with Ethan, at the risk of his life (because he might become infected with a futuristic plague). It was bizarre and way too much time and energy was spent on that issue compared to the major world-saving plot line. Plus, this led to Prenna and Ethan’s relationship being completely based on sexual tension rather than actual romantic involvement.
Some elements of this book are brilliant, like the methods used to monitor the time travelers by the “counselors,” and the plot twists revealed throughout about what, exactly, they were meant to be changing in the future. But overall, I think this idea was one that had potential but was poorly executed.
Wavering between a 2 or a 3 out of 5 stars, but I’ll give it a 2.