by Ann Brashares
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
An unforgettable epic romantic thriller about a girl from the future who might be able to save the world... if she lets go of the one thing she’s found to hold on to.
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.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
Well, that was a waste of time. A small waste of time, since the book is short, but a waste of time nevertheless. I had high hopes for this one, since I really enjoyed My Name Is Memory, but this book didn't even come close to that one in terms of plot, characters, writing... or pretty much anything, really. I feel like Brashares phoned it in with this book; I can almost imagine her publisher calling her up and saying, "Hey, can you whip us up a short time travel novel for release next month? Don't worry about having it make sense. It's for teenagers; just throw in some romance and you'll be good."
Please, dear author, I want some more...
I hate to say it, but the best thing about this book is its length. The cover's kind of interesting, too. That's about it.
It's all a matter of taste...
My main issues with this book are: the lackluster characters and their annoying, inexplicable romance; the iffy science; and the confusing depiction of time travel and the rules surrounding it.
Prenna is one of the most boring characters I've come across recently. She has no real personality. Aside from the fact that she's good at school, we don't know much about her. So when she gets together with Ethan, the boy who witnessed her appear naked in the woods after her time jump (awkward!), there's the constant question of why. Ethan's smart. He's popular. He's cute. And he's kind of obsessed with someone with the personality of a piece of wet bread. (It sort of reminded me of Edward Cullen's obsession with Bella Swan, a girl whose one and only hobby seemed to be self-deprecation. Why are these interesting, accomplished guys always attracted to such boring girls? It makes no sense.) The romance itself is kind of sudden, even though the two have known each other for a while, and it's not long before they're getting all sappy and annoying and making the reader want to slap them. They're in the middle of trying to save humanity, and their hormones are running the show. It's a scary thought.
In Prenna's time, the world is in the midst of a mosquito-borne plague. That's why she and the other plague survivors went back in time: to escape the disease... and presumably prevent it from ever happening. The problem with that is the community's rules against interfering in the timeline (which is kind of a big plot hole, no matter how you look at it; how can you not interfere with the timeline when the very act of travelling through time does just that?). The leaders of the community are evil, anyway, power-hungry dictators who drug and surveil those under them to make sure they aren't breaking any of the rules. They're not supposed to interfere in the known timeline, implying an element of determinism that's pretty depressing. How do they know how things are supposed to be? Why is a timeline with interference from time travelers any less valid than one without? By the end, it seemed that the rules were in place more to cause complications for the plot than for any meaningful reason. So what if people find out you're from the future and want to develop time travel technology? What makes you and your problems so special that you're the only ones allowed to go back in time and try to prevent tragedy? You think there haven't been other people over the millennia who wouldn't have loved a chance to change what happened to them and their families?
The plague's science is both plausible and implausible. I'm also not sold on the idea that Prenna's people could harbour pathogens indefinitely. It just seems like a convenient plot device, a way to make everything seem oh, so tragic when our lovebirds can't get together because they might start a new plague. (As far as I know, that's not the way it works. Time travel aside, when one group of people encounters another group for the first time, any pathogens are shared pretty much right away. Even if the disease is blood-borne, there are still work-arounds.)
And don't even get me started on the whole Americocentric aspects of the plot. Just because one American oil tycoon manages to get carbon emissions in the U.S. deregulated does not mean the whole planet is going to burn. (The book's science also conveniently ignores the effects of methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas, and focuses solely on carbon. And then the main characters go around eating sausages and cheeseburgers while wondering how to stop climate change so the mosquitoes don't rise up and kill everyone.)
The book also seems a bit short on plot, which is ridiculous. There's so much that could've been expanded upon, but a lot of the story is padded by the two main characters driving around the New York area in a borrowed car and Ethan trying to teach Prenna how to play cards. With a book this short, there's no excuse for such slow pacing.
Let's get technical...
I do not recall such awkward prose in My Name Is Memory. The book seems hastily thrown together and even more hastily edited, leading to numerous places where the characters will say something that doesn't make sense in context; it's as if something important was cut out, and then the next sentence wasn't corrected to reflect the changes. The characters also spoke really... strangely. They often avoided contractions, and (especially with the teenagers) it sounded really odd and stilted.
When I first heard about this book, I was excited. But now that I've read it, I'm completely underwhelmed and disappointed. It's a pretty lousy time-travel novel. It's a pretty boring romance. It's... just not very good. (For romantic time travel done well, go try Cristin Terrill's All Our Yesterdays instead.)
Ethan shrugs. "Too bad we can't do Internet searches of the near future. I mean, hey, it's only a couple days away."
I laugh. "Yeah, what's with that? You can't even look up tomorrow. Who says the Internet is boundless?"
Overall Rating: 1.63 out of 5 ladybugs