The Here and Now
Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.
Hmmm. I think I'm a little bit disappointed with The Here and Now. Probably because I read so much in this genre that my standards are extremely high; I love me a good dystopia and it has to be a good one to impress me.
Not that this was bad exactly. In fact it was actually rather good (as evidenced by the fact I read it in a day whilst say on my stall at Manchester’s Off the High Street Christmas Market.) The problem was, I think, that this story had the potential to be really great and it didn’t quite reach it. It always makes me rather sad when that happens.
The premise is excellent: the story is set in 2014 but the main character, Prenna, is from another time. She's from the year 2098 and has travelled back in time with her community of approx. 1000 people, to escape a plague that's threatening humanity.
Prenna’s spent the past four years since she arrived in 2010 trying to blend into society and trying to keep the rules laid out by the leaders of her community, rules based on fear that leave Prenna desperate to never be discovered. She’s under the impression – as you would be I suppose - that the community leaders have everybody's best interests at heart and that they’re trying to make things better. To fix what isn’t yet broken. However, (dun dun dun!) all is not as it seems.
When is it ever?
Time travel, evil baddies masquerading as goodies, a virus that threatens mankind, and a good old forbidden love story. Should have been so great.
Parts of it worked. I am in no way slating this book. It’s a pretty good exploration of important issues – most obviously global warming – and it explores these issues without ever really preaching. Far-fetched as parts of it are, there’s still a part of you all too aware that to go from where we are now to what Prenna has seen in the future isn’t that great a leap. You can't not consider the plausibility and doing so makes you realise that Prenna’s right: we very probably aren’t doing enough. I loved the idea of these people travelling back in time and things being so different and the juxtaposition of one world against another; all of that side of the story was interesting and relevant.
Then, the development of Prenna’s relationship with Ethan is lovely and honest – it’s not all hearts and flowers either, this is an honest to God look at an honest to God forbidden and impossible love, made all the sweeter the whole way through by how desperately tragic it is. All the angst people, all the angst. I guess it’s going to happen, when you travel back from 2098 and fall in love with a guy in 2014. S’never going to be an easy ride, is it? Brashares gets this spot on - the emotional intensity is palpable
So you have the romance and you have the whole time travel paradox side to the story, along with the underlying issue of the plague and where it came from and how to stop it and you know, all those things, they ticked all my boxes. I liked this book, I did.
I just...expected more. I just felt like I was being given a taste. Reading this book was like being offered one Malteser whilst the rest of the packet is left just out of reach. Which, holy terrible metaphor batman, I apologise. You get my meaning though, right? More Maltesers…
The main issue I had was with the narrative voice. I guess, if your protagonist is a teenage girl then I think you need to write her as a teenage girl. It didn't make sense for Prenna's narration to be as formal as it was, for her conversations with Ethan to be so lacking in teenage idioms and expressions. Teenagers just don’t talk like that. Crikey, most adults aren’t as formal as Prenna and Ethan. Perhaps you could excuse it by saying Prenna's not from this time – things are different in 2098 - but still, Ethan’s a Time Native, and he didn't sound like any 18 year old I ever met. Often their conversations jarred a little – I was aware of it, pretty much all the time - and it made it more difficult to get into their headspace. It also made feel like there was no sense of immediacy, or urgency. Even when the spoilery Bad Stuff is happening, there's no real sense of tension, you're aware as the reader that Prenna and Ethan are working to a pressing time limit, but you don't feel like they’re in that much of a rush. It's weird.
I had issues too with the characterisation, not so much with Prenna and Ethan (although Prenna was a little inconsistent) but with the secondary characters. The leaders of Prenna’s community are obviously asshats, and are clearly supposed to be the bad guys but there’s just no depth to them., you don’t get to find out enough about them or what they’re doing or why. To get behind Prenna’s fight you kind of need to know what and who it is she’s fighting against. And you don’t. And the big show down, the whole good versus evil thing towards the end of the book is such a letdown – because of that, because these characters have no depth and as far as we can see are evil just for the sake of it.
I kind of felt like Brashare just doesn’t care that much – why not flesh things out further if she does. Tell me more about time travel, tell me about the effects of messing with the timeline, tell me more about this plague and what the time travellers hoped to achieve by going back 88 years, make your bad guys into fully realised characters instead of these one-dimensional people that take away from your story rather than adding to it. Make me care, I guess. The world is going to be hit by an environmental catastrophe in 84 years unless something drastic happens – make me care about that instead of just whether or not Prenna and Ethan get together in the end.
I guess, for a teen romance with a bit of a twist, it was good but when you consider it could have been so much more, it could have been an engaging and exciting story, it only reaches okay and that made it disappointing.
I received an early copy of The Here and Now via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.