Since this is my first column for IMJ, I’d like to introduce myself!
I’m a complete YA Lit junkie. Although I have a wide reading list, I much prefer young adult novels for their original themes and angsty plotlines. For some reason, I relate to these novels bizarrely well.
For that same reason, I’m a dedicated YA Fiction writer. I have an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill U— and some of my happiest times are writing in cafés. Thankfully, my life now allows me to write full-time. My latest novel, Cevin’s Deadly Sin, is the story of a hetero teen cross-dresser. The story chronicles Cevin’s struggles with first love, self-identity and bullying– all while trying to survive his senior year in a small Florida town.
My goal is to bring you my perspective on all things YA: Writing, film and other trending topics… And since Divergent just made a splash in theaters (and a sequel’s already scheduled to start shooting), I thought it would be fun to review a novel that gives a different take on dystopia.
If you’re sick of the usual dystopian book fare such as Divergent and The Hunger Games, with their stereotypical plot lines and kick-ass heroines, The Here and Now by Ann Brashares is like a sky filled with fresh air.
The novel’s logline goes like this: Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love. The story takes place in the present, where seventeen-year-old Prenna James has immigrated to New York. But Prenna didn’t come from a different country, she came from a different time. Rising tides, a ruined atmosphere and a population decimating plague have forced the inhabitants from Prenna’s future to find a way out or die— and that way turns out to be time travel.
The story begins with Ethan Jarves fishing along the banks of a river– when he suddenly sees a shimmery spot in the air and a girl appears, naked and shivering. He gives her his sweater, then she flees with no explanation. A few years later, the same girl appears at Ethan’s high school. He’s completely taken with her– and though she tries to hide her unusual origins from him, he figures it out.
But Prenna isn’t free to become anything more than friends with Ethan. All who have escaped to the present 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 of their community. Prenna does as she’s told, but a plot twist throws her right into the middle of a movement seeking to prevent the plague that will one day ravage Earth… And when the oppressive regime governing her people threatens to banish or possibly kill Prenna– she’s forced to take action.
I like how the book is very environmentally oriented. Prenna thought present day people were unaware of what was happening to their environment– and the worldwide collapse that it could eventually bring. When she finds out we did know, she wonders how we could all stand by and let it happen. (I wish more people would think about this– and move to do something about it.)
Several flashbacks show Prenna’s dismal future– a world where she’s lost family and friends to a horrible plague carried by mosquitos. (She’s been through a lot in her young life, including watching two of her siblings die.) Then a fateful twist pits Prenna against the authorities who rule over the time travelers. She falls hard for the sensitive Ethan– who helps her struggle against the establishment. Soon the couple embark on an exciting adventure in an attempt to divert the planet from its horrible fate.
Ann Brashares (who’s also the author of the bestseller The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), is a skillful writer. Her characters are fully fleshed out real people, and the author makes us care about them. It’s really the small details that bring this story home: In Prenna’s future, mosquitos are harbingers of death. So when she sees one perched on Ethan’s arm, she swats it so hard she nearly pushes him out of his chair. This kind of emotional content allows the characters in The Here and Now to ring true.
It’s so refreshing to see Prenna isn’t your usual kick-ass dystopian character… She feels so real you could easily put yourself in her place. Likewise, Eric is more of a beta hero. He’s sweet, sensitive and will do anything for Prenna– which makes you love him all the more. They’re an engaging couple, and the story of their forbidden love is emotionally engaging… You really feel for Prenna and Eric, you care about what happens to them and you want them to get together. Thankfully, Brashares saves us from trilogy-itis. I give her “extra points” for wrapping up the story (even if it does leave a little room for a possible sequel).
The Here and Now is one of the first novels in a long while I simply could not put down. I highly recommend it.