The Here and Now by Ann Brashares
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I received an eARC of this book for review from Net Galley, with the understanding I would provide a fair review. I was not compensated for this review.
Prenna James could be any overly sheltered teenager, except that her community's reason for keeping her apart from the rest of the world is because she's from a future world ravaged by disease and shortages. Anything she does could disrupt the timeline, or she could pass a disease on to a "time native," which is what her community calls those who belong in that timeline. But Prenna is in love with native Ethan Jarves, who may be too observant for his own good. Then a crazy homeless guy tells her she has to stop an event that'll happen on May 17, and he seems to know where she's from.
It's a compelling premise, which is why the execution is so frustrating. If you'd told me this was a debut novel, I'd've believed you. The writing is stilted and uneven, and the dialogue made me cringe in places. Prenna offers an excuse as to why she communicates so badly, but that doesn't explain why everyone else speaks that way. People avoid contractions, and whip out multisyllabic scientific terms in casual conversation.
The plot is awfully straightforward for a story about time travel. Prenna gets her motivation, then an obstacle. She handles the obstacle. Another obstacle appears. She overcomes it. And so on. The society she lives in is painted as omniscient, omnipotent, and corrupt, but the solution comes about far too neatly. It severely detracts from the earlier depiction, and it paints everyone, Prenna included, as useless. And two whole days of story are spent just waiting for the event she's supposed to stop. The only conflict comes from the thin excuses the book has for making Prenna and Ethan lie down together in close quarters. The book could've benefited from a significant tightening of the timeline.
The whole story revolves around the premise of forbidden love between Prenna and Ethan. Which is unfortunate, because I didn't feel the romance. I believed they were close friends, and that he was a teenage boy. Aside from a brief fantasy she regrets, I never got the impression Prenna feels anything but tolerance for the physical aspect of their relationship. That makes his pressure despite her apathy rather creepy.
The least forgivable aspect of this book is its endorsement of the notion of purity. It's entirely up to Prenna to be a good girl, and the ending justifies her prudishness. I'm not expecting a sexually liberated YA heroine, but the book's reinforcement of purity culture left a bad taste in my mouth.
There's so much that could've been done better in this book. Had Prenna wanted Ethan as much as he wanted her, had the conclusion been used, instead, as a jumping-off point for Prenna to show how much she cares, had those two days of inactivity been cut, I would've forgiven a lot of stilted writing.
I do understand this is YA. That's why I'm so disappointed in how poorly this was written. I don't expect inferior quality from something, just because it's written for teenagers. In fact, most of the YA I've read thus far has been on par with adult fiction. Let's not give ammo to the crowd who argues the YA label means something isn't as good.
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