I’ve been lucky to start working my way from simply reviewing books that have already hit bookstore shelves into the realm of previewing books. The first of these is from an author I enjoyed years ago: Ann Brashares. I found her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series to be sentimental but in the best way, examining the importance of friendship and having people to support you through your teen years, whoever they may be. Having the opportunity to preview her upcoming The Here and Now was doubly exciting because it delves into the realm of science fiction (which I’ve come to really enjoy in recent years). Tackling the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey issues that go hand in hand with time travel, The Here and Now is a huge departure from the Sisterhood books and while I’m all for writers branching out and trying new things, there are some elements from the Sisterhood books that could have helped The Here and Now fulfill its potential.
Seventeen-year-old Prenna James lives with some pretty strict rules but they’re not the same rules that most teenagers have to deal with. As a time immigrant from an apocalyptic future, the rules of Prenna’s community are designed to protect the unsuspecting people around her. Or at least, that’s what she’s been told in the years since arriving four years earlier in 2010. Limiting interaction with anyone not a fellow time traveler proves difficult for Prenna for several reasons, not the least of which is persistent classmate, Ethan. Aside from the fact that Prenna is attracted to him, he refuses to be deterred when she does try to brush him off. She can’t help but feel he understands more about her than he should and when an apparently crazy, homeless man confronts Prenna and challenges her belief in the rules and the system, the reasons for breaking them multiply.
Plot-wise, there was potential in The Here and Now but so much of the story just fell flat. There are always going to be some big holes when using time travel; paradoxes have to be addressed, the challenges of creating a future that is logical, practical, and realistic, etc. While those are annoying, they can be overlooked when the story that’s being told is compelling enough but I just didn’t feel like The Here and Now delivers on those other aspects. So much of the story needed more fleshing out than it received. It felt stretched thin, trying to cover too many things and not spending enough time on any of them, starving it from the inside out and making it impossible to ignore or forgive the holes that are part and parcel with time travel.
The main character of Prenna was the most disappointing. I couldn’t find anything in her to latch onto or identify with. She felt too scattered and lacked any real personality. The inconsistencies of her behavior turn her into a plot device to check points of action off on a list. A weak protagonist doesn’t always spell doom for a book, but none of the other characters stand out either leaving the novel feeling unfinished. The “bad guys” don’t feel different enough from the “good guys” and not because they’re meant to be humanized. None of the characters feel particularly realistic or human in their actions and reactions. It’s so disappointing because, having read the Sisterhood books, I know Brashares is capable of developing characters that are distinctive and varied, that act with consistency and react understandably to their shifting environments and circumstances, characters with personality.
While there are elements of the world and scenarios Ann Brashares creates that make sense and ring true, but The Here and Now ultimately feels unfinished and hollow with the biggest issue being the characters. So many of the other problems I find with the novel stem from the flatness of the characters, I don’t even know if those others are worth deeper examination and I doubt that fixing them would be enough to save the book from being merely mediocre.
The Here and Now will be available in stores and online starting April 8, 2014.