Today, I'm reviewing Ann Brashares' The Here and Now.
I'm kind of mixed how I feel about this book, but I hope my review will help some prospective readers make up their minds…
Expected publication: April 8th 2014 by Delacorte Press
Format read: E-ARC via publisher
Synopsis via Goodreads:
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.
So when I heard that Ann Brashares was delving into the world of YA science fiction with The Here and Now, I was ridiculously excited. The synopsis sounded amazing, and the book quickly became one of my most anticipated reads of 2014.
But after being lucky enough to read an e-ARC of the book, I have to honestly say: I don’t think Brashare’s return to the YA genre quite hits the mark in this case – for me, at any rate.
Even though the lives of community members are extremely restricted – they need to avoid detection and prevent contamination with the locals – Prenna deals with it begrudgingly, until a chance encounter clues her into the fact that she may be the one to stop her future, but at the expense of her own happiness.
All of this sounds incredibly compelling, right?
But while Brashares undoubtedly has an expansive imagination, I think that her execution choices in The Here and Now is what ultimately prevents her from being able to pull the story off.
On Brashare's writing:
However, because of Prenna’s background and Brashares’s penchant for writing language that sounds a little formal than your average teenager – seriously, reread theSisterhood books, and you’ll see what I mean – her characterization comes across as uneven. Prenna either sounds too immature because of her limited exposure to the world, or too mature on certain occasions.
And while I could definitely buy that someone from an isolated environment wouldn’t act your normal teen, the uneven characterization makes it difficult to figure out just what the reader wants for Prenna. Do we want her to lose the restraints of her community and break free? Do we want her to tell all of the other community members to stuff it? If Prenna’s life is so restrictive, isn't it annoying that she judges others so harshly? You get my point.
On secondary characters:
Readers are told from Prenna’s POV that certain characters are stringent to the point of being villainous – including a character who tells Prenna not to look so stupid, often and repeatedly - but because we’re so isolated in her head, we don’t get any subtlety to their development. Brashares had a real opportunity to dig deep into how the time travel impacted these characters and their dreams, hopes and fears, but doesn’t.
Simliarly, characters that are liked by Prenna are more or less viewed as being perfect, which lessens any tension and interesting development – particularly in the case of the romance with Ethan.
However, because of how we're in Prenna’s head, the writing doesn’t really convey that sense of urgency. She spends a chunk of the book waiting things out, and I never felt like she was in any specific risk or danger.
While The Here and Now wasn’t necessarily for me largely due to the writing choices that she made, I do think that fans of Brashares who are curious should definitely check the book out. They might find something that I’ve missed, or appreciate something that I might have overlooked.
As for me, I’ll definitely give this book a read again in a few months, and who knows – my opinion may change! Also, if Brashares is planning on writing a sequel, I’ll definitely be around to check it out – I’m still curious as to how things will play out for Prenna, Ethan and her community.
Disclaimer I received an e-ARC of The Here and Now from Random House, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
About the author:
Expecting to continue studying philosophy in graduate school, Ann took a year off after college to work as an editor, hoping to save money for school. Loving her job, she never went to graduate school, and instead, remained in New York City and worked as an editor for many years. Ann made the transition from editor to full-time writer with her first novel, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Ann and her husband live with their three children in New York.