the here and now

Monday, May 26, 2014 |
I never read Ann Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (or its sequels), but one of my very best college friends read them all in high school, and she used to talk about the characters and stories like they were real people who could be right in the room with us.  I knew Brashares’ writing had to be good to pull my friend in, but I never felt an urge to try that series myself.  Instead, it took a beautiful book cover and a science fiction premise to hook me.  Once in, I finished The Here and Now  in short order, and I think I understand a little of my friend’s obsession.

the here and now by ann brashares book cover
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.

 From Ann Brashares, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, The Here and Now is thrilling, exhilarating, haunting, and heartbreaking—and a must-read novel of the year.

Despite appearances, Prenna James is not your average teen.  In fact, she’s not even from this time.  What, then, is she? A fugitive from a not-so-distant future wracked with plagues and catastrophe, where fear rules and death is as close as a mosquito bite.  Now that she and a select few have made it to the past, they live by a strict code that protects the community.  The problem is that Prenna can no longer pretend to like living under the rules, or understand their necessity.  She has questions, important ones.  What does the date May 17, 2014 mean?  What is her classmate Ethan forever trying to tell her?  What is the deal with that old homeless man in the park?  Her search for answers has the potential to turn both of her worlds on their heads.

In Prenna, Brashares has created a stubborn, smart, and curious teen chafing under a set of rules that kill her a little more each day.  Her bleak, isolated life is all she knows, but new high school experiences, memory and an almost unshakeable, albeit deeply buried, hope add up to something worth challenging the status quo for.  Prenna’s society is sinister, isolationist, and Big Brother-esque, but the immense interest in Prenna’s everyday doings at times seemed over the top.  If the reader can suspend disbelief and buy-in, it’s certainly a chilling future.  I myself wavered a bit here and there, but overall I appreciated the execution and the air of suspicion and menace that tainted Prenna’s entire experience.

Of course, this isn’t just a tale of time travel and the eventual end of the world.  It’s also a story of a magnetic attraction between Prenna and her classmate Ethan.  But the rules that govern Prenna cover outsiders’ knowledge of the time travelers as well as intimacy with time natives, so everything is forbidden.  Since the story is told from Prenna’s point of view, it includes her musings and insecurities on petty (and more serious) concerns, including her suspicions about the abuse of power within her own community and the real reasons for the rules they must all live by.

Plot: I knew what was coming.  I guessed all of the twists, and I’m not exactly the most astute mystery-solving reader out there.  It’s safe to assume that you’ll be able to puzzle it out too.  That said, The Here and Now is never boring (even if you can guess the results), and there’s no fluff: it’s serious-as-death consequences and the writing sings in places.   Check out this section from chapter fourteen:

Lying here like this, I can imagine happiness.  Not a kicky, bright kind, but a full, almost aching kind, both dark and light.  I can see the whole world in this way.  I can imagine extending the feeling to other places and parts of the day.  I can imagine holding it in my pocket like a lens, and bringing it out so that I can look through it and remember again and again the world that has this feeling in it.

Prenna is a heroine with real baggage and sorrow for memories.  Hers is not a light story, but it makes for quick quality reading.

Recommended for: fans of Neal Shusterman's Unwind, Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave, Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, and anyone interested in young adult sci-fi and dystopian lit.

Fine print: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher for honest review.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.


KC said...

I JUST checked this out from the library on Thursday, and it's sitting on my table waiting for me to pick up. I'm so glad you did this review, now I'm even more motivated to read it.

And, like you, I picked this up while pondering picking up the Sisterhood series because I also have a friend with good taste in books that loves it.

Can't wait to start it now!

Liviania said...

I enjoyed this one quite a bit. I wish it had done more with the time travel, but that wasn't the story the book wanted to tell, and that's fine.

La Coccinelle said...

I never read the Traveling Pants books, either, but I have read My Name Is Memory and really enjoyed it. So I might like this one. *sigh* Another book for the TBR pile!

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