Format/Source: eARC from publisher on Netgalley
Expected publication date: April 8, 2014 (tomorrow!)
As a fan of Ann Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, I was really excited to read this – her first YA novel since that series, and a time-travel one, too! I’m really sad to say that while the book had some really gorgeous passages that made me think, I found the plot and characters to be pretty trite.
I was engaged in the plot most of the time that I was reading, and I did want to know what would happen…but at the same time, I was bored. Firstly, the plot fell into cliche territory – if you’ve read any dystopian or sci-fi novels, you know that if you’re given a set of rules at the beginning of the novel that feel like they violate an individual’s freedoms, the main character is going to need to break some rules and change the course of things in order to make things better. While there were a few twists and turns in the plot that had me into the book, for the most part, the story went pretty much the way that I expected.
That would have been okay had it not been for the fact that the characters felt really inauthentic to me. There was very little description of who they were, what they liked, or what they even looked like. They were like shells of people who only had one or two traits: Prenna was a time-traveller trying to break away, and her only real trait or interest was that she was in love with Ethan. Ethan was a cute guy interested in physics and Prenna. The rest of the characters are secondary characters that are archetypes of villains (the counselor that wants Prenna to obey the rules) or heroes (the aged, homeless man who sits behind the A&P who befriends Ethan and has more information than he seems to have), fading into the background throughout the novel, and only appearing when necessary.
The few times there was described characterization or behavior, it was usually a deus ex machina. For instance, at one point, we are told that Ethan has put a tracker bug on someone. A TRACKER? Ethan is a normal human teenager – what teenager do you know who just happens to have tracker technology sitting around his bedroom?
Because we don’t know much about the main characters, and much of their early interaction is before the novel even starts, we are simply told that they are in love with each other – and so the romance feels very much like insta-love. There were a few moments that were a bit swoonworthy – Brashares knows her way around good romantic dialogue – but ultimately, that lack of connection made it hard to be invested in their survival or their romance. I cared enough about the plot and the writing to keep going with the book, but that was it.
The one thing I will say this book had going for it was that it had themes and ideas that got me thinking. I felt like Brashares was using this medium in order to discuss the vagaries of information sharing, privacy, technology, and climate change. That part of the book – where we discover more about the future and Prenna and Ethan discuss how to make things better – was measured and beautifully written. For me, these themes and the writing saved the book and made it worth reading.
Time Travel That Makes Sense: I find that most people who write time travel usually don’t know what they’re talking about – or they go somewhere between what my husband calls the “Back to the Future” version of time travel (where everything you do changes something) and the “Bill & Ted” version of time travel (where everything you do was always that way, and you can’t change anything). Brashares manages to keep to one version of time travel, and I feel like it works quite well.
The Final Word:
I wanted to like this book so much, but I was disappointed in its cliched plot and its lack of real character development. I did like the pacing of the book and it had some thoughtful, beautifully written moments that made it worth reading, but ultimately, this isn’t one I’ll be recommending a lot.
THE HERE AND NOW comes out tomorrow. Will you be picking it up? Did you like Brashares’ Traveling Pants series? Are you okay with insta-love? Do you like time-travel books? Hit up the comments and let me know!