Book Review: The Here And Now

Book Review: The Here And Now by Ann Brashares

The Here and NowAnn Brashares, author of the much-loved, bestselling Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, takes a leap into new territory with the publication of her science fiction novel The Here And Now.

Main character Prenna James makes a rather spectacular entrance, appearing suddenly alongside a river, naked and shivering, with a strange number written on her arm. And the sole witness, Ethan Jarves, has never forgotten what he saw that day.

Years later, Ethan and Prenna are classmates in high school, and apart from a surface friendliness, Prenna gives no sign of a previous connection to Ethan. But then again, Prenna has a lot on her mind.

Prenna is a new immigrant — from the future. Along with a community of about 1,000 people, she and her mother traveled a time path from the 2090s back to 2010. Now, four years later, the community attempts to hide in plain sight by assimilating into the world of the “time natives” — mingling, but never getting close. And there are rules that must be followed at all cost: No changing history. No trying to alter established events. No seeking medical attention outside the community. And absolutely no intimacy with the natives, emotional or physical. And if anyone steps out of line, the “counselors” will see to it that those people conveniently leave town, have an accident, or otherwise disappear.

Ethan is persistent in trying to befriend Prenna, and when Ethan pushes Prenna to talk to the local crazy homeless man, she’s startled to discover that both may know more than they should… and that perhaps there’s a mission for her here that may be worth risking her security for. Because in the future that Prenna came from, the world was reaching its end. Climate change had already destroyed much of the planet. Nothing grows. Nothing new is made. People go hungry. It’s only a matter of time before the earth itself is no longer able to sustain life — and that’s not even mentioning the worst part of all, a mosquito-born blood plague that wipes out everyone it touches and can’t be stopped or cured.

Prenna’s family came to 2010 to seek refuge from a world without hope — but what if there was hope after all? What if, by changing one event, Prenna could change the entire course of the future, saving lives and saving the planet? It’s completely against the rules, of course — but what if this just happens to be worth some broken rules?

The Here And Now mingles a time travel adventure with a love story, with mixed success. Obviously, Ethan and Prenna will fall for each other, big time. And obviously, there will be obstacles. The rules that Prenna is forced to follow caution that the time travelers will spread sickness to the time natives by getting too close. Is this just manipulation to assure compliance, or is there really something to fear? And clearly, sharing secrets is a huge no-no, but Ethan may be the only person who can help Prenna figure out what needs to be done and how. Prenna is torn — trust Ethan, or shut him out? Love Ethan, or protect him by rejecting him? Fortunately, rather than the all too common insta-love formula, the author is careful to establish their relationship as one that has built over years, so that as they move from casual acquaintance to deep friendship to romance, it feels legitimate and real — not just romance for the sake of the well-worn YA formula for such things.

More problematic is the time travel. There’s a sci-fi “lite” vibe here. The time loops of causation and change are a bit mind-boggling, but the pieces don’t altogether mesh or make sense. It’s intriguing , to be sure, to figure out the various timelines and how they’ve changed, but the reason behind all of this doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. The climate change factor feels almost too politically correct, with good guys and bad guys lining up in a very predictable way. There’s also the issue of teens playing in an adult world: In a couple of crucial moments, Ethan and Prenna easily convince a highly skilled scientist to take certain actions that seem far-fetched. Certainly, the lack of systems security that allow them to change events, as well as the fake instructions they provide to the scientist, would never pass muster in the real world in an actual high-level research facility.

The Here And Now is fast-paced and absolutely held my attention, but the dangers never feel terribly threatening and the resolution seems a bit oversimplified. Kudos to the author, though, for not wrapping everything up in the neat HEA bow one might expect, instead throwing a last-minute curveball that makes everything much more bittersweet. I appreciated the ending very much, to tell the truth, as it would have been easy to make the endgame all about the love story. Instead, we see a future for Prenna’s community and the world at large that that has hope, but isn’t sugar-coated into perfection.

Do I recommend The Here And Now? Yes. It’s an engrossing story, with well-developed characters, believable relationships, and a plotline that hums with tension and action. If you’re a fan of time travel fiction, enjoy The Here And Now — just don’t examine it too closely or expect the pseudo-science and timelines to make 100% sense.

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The details:

Title: The Here And Now
Author: Ann Brashares
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication date: April 8, 2014
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Young adult/science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Delacorte via NetGalley

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