Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

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.

WARNING: This review is dark and full of spoilers

I’m drawn to this book because of the cover. It’s very pretty and artsy, but probably doesn’t have a lot (or any) symbolic meaning. But it caught my attention, so I guess it worked. The story summary sounds interesting enough (I’m currently binge-watching Doctor Who, so, “yay, time travel!”). The last line about everything changing when Prenna falls for Ethan made me gag. My favorite books are ones where romance is the sub-plot, not the entire story. If the romance is the entire story, why bother with the time travel? Just to suck in fantasy readers like me?  But I’ll still read it. The book isn’t very thick and the font is pretty big. It’ll be a quick read. And it’s by Ann Brashares, author of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. I’ve only seen the movies, but she can’t be that bad of a story teller if she has a bestseller under her belt. Can she…? We’ll see.

I didn’t like the first half of this book. At all. It started with the prologue. Ethan, the love interest, is fishing all by his lonesome when Prenna James appears in the middle of the forest, butt-naked. Ethan describes her as “supernaturally beautiful, like a mermaid or elvish princess”. So, basically, Prenna looks like a blended version of Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Arwen from Lord of the Rings. When we meet Prenna later in the books, we see she’s a timid girl with only a few friends. Egh. Beautiful, shy and friendless. Where have I seen this before? Oh, yeah, in 50% of the YA books I’ve ever read. If Prenna’s going to be a Mary Sue, we need her Gary Sue. And we find him in Ethan. He’s a popular guy who’s friends with everyone, but he’s also a good-hearted, kind person. I just threw up in my mouth a little.

Once you get past their stereotypical characterization, Prenna and Ethan aren’t that bad. By the end, Prenna isn’t making stupid decisions and Ethan becomes an actual character. They’re tolerable. But it wasn’t just the flat characters that bothered me in the first half. I think The Here and Now needed a bit more editing. There are a few places where the writing is choppy because Brashares didn’t use contractions. If she was trying to make Prenna sound old-fashioned (which makes no sense since she’s from the future), Brashares should have had every possible contraction removed instead of just a few random assed one. There were also multiple occasions in the first half where Prenna broke the fourth wall and started talking to the audience. They were gone by the mid-point, but it was a huge distraction to be ripped out of the book like that.

This book was very predictable. When the homeless man, “Ben Kenobi”, asked to speak to Prenna and started telling her she had to change the future, it was obvious the man was her father. He was mentioned so often, anyone reading would’ve known he was going to show up any second. On a site note, Prenna said she had great deductions skills, but she was in denial about “Kenobi” being her father even after she had solid proof. I guess Brashares could defend herself by saying Prenna didn’t want to believe he was her father. I’ll accept that, but it’s kind of weak. Moving back to the predictability of the story, I guessed Ethan was the important one Prenna had to save and not Mona, whom they spent the entire story trying to save. While my guess was never 100% confirmed, it was validated by Prenna stopping his death and the revelation of his potential future as a great scientist.

The second half of the story was better. There was more time than I wanted focused on the romance. They ate a lot of meals, shared secrets and played cards. The good part came when they actually got around to saving the future. The ending was strong enough that I’d read a sequel to find out what happens to Prenna, Ethan and the whole time travelling community.

Random Thought:
-This book is going to date itself real quick. The first chapter is titled April 23, 2014. I understand why they needed dates. It’s a time travel novel. But I feel they could’ve kept the future dates and found a way to work around the current dates. Anyone reading this book in a year will find it “old” just because the events happened in 2014.

Despite the weak writing, poor characterization and predictable plot at the beginning, The Here and Now wasn’t a complete waste of time. The end of the story, and how it unfolded, was interesting and kept my attention. But to get to the good parts, you have to wade through all the bad. I think the starts of The Here and Now deserves 2 stars. But the end gets four starts. So I’ll average it out to 3 stars.