Monday, 27 April 2015

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

The Here and Now (2014) (Hodder Children's Books)
Ann Brashares
Grade: C+
Genre: young adult / time travel
Source: own / NetGalley
General RBC 2015: A book set in the future 

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

These are the most important rules of Prenna’s community – the rules that she knows she must abide by if they’re to blend in and appear normal. Ethan is the first and only person who makes Prenna want to risk revealing her community’s secret: that they’re from another time … In the future, a mosquito-borne disease is rapidly killing huge swathes of humanity. The early twenty-first century is identified as a ‘safe haven’ where those who have managed to avoid the disease can start over. But the restrictive rules about never revealing where they’re from, never dramatically changing the course of history and never being intimate with someone from outside their community are put to the test as Prenna and Ethan are drawn into a course of events that has the potential to destroy the world – and history – as they know it …

I’m more than happy to admit that the sole reason I wanted to read this is because it was written by the mighty Ann Brashares. I worshipped The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series (I’m only counting books 1-4 here) as a teenager and that’s still the case more than ten years on. Every so often, I’ll have an urge to pick up one of the books and flick through to find my favourite scenes (Bee was always my favourite character). Post-Sisterhood, I’ve definitely tried to see whether Ann Brashares can replicate her writing magic in other books and series. She’s a fantastic writer and I have enjoyed her standalones since, but I’m not sure that the magic of the sisterhood can ever be replicated.

I said in my review of A Knight in Shining Armor that I hadn’t had very much experience with time travel. I had completely forgotten that The Here and Now is a time travel novel, as well as Ms Brashares previous standalone novel, My Name is Memory (2010) – amazing book, by the way. Clearly, I have a tendency to forget the element of time travel as an integral part of the book afterwards. This is probably more of a deficiency on my part than the writer’s, but it has made me think about my attitude towards it. I have absolutely no trouble with accepting time travel as a concept or plot device, whether it’s in books, TV or film, however outlandish it might seem in real life. In fact, it looks like I’m so accepting of time travel that I sometimes forget about it altogether – even when I’m reading the book itself. Perhaps that’s an indication of great writing: that the author has managed to integrate time travel so completely and seamlessly that it doesn’t come across as an alien idea. I would never go as far to say that I love time travel books and make a special effort to read them, but I’ve made it my mission to finally finish Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander this year!

I found it hard to get into this and connect with the characters. There was a detached-ness about the writing that I’d never experienced in The Sisterhood that made it really hard to care for the characters and persist with reading this book. Sure, it was good at times, but out of the time travel books that I have read, it’s probably made the biggest deal of highlighting the differences between the two different worlds – losing the seamlessness that I mentioned above. Further, the ending killed me in that Prenna and Ethan deserved so much more – you’ll have to read it to find out what I mean. In terms of time travel books, My Name is Memory was definitely more gut-wrenching and heartfelt in this respect. In that book, there were times when I just wanted to weep for some characters and strangle others – that’s what I love about Ann Brashares; unfortunately, she didn’t evoke the same emotions in me with THaN.

I wanted to like this, but it seems that it wasn’t meant to be. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants was just one of many series of books that played an integral part of my childhood and early teenage years. To be fair to Ann Brashares, I doubt that anything written by these authors (mainly also Meg Cabot and Tamora Pierce) now could hold a candle to the books I read in those formative years. I’m not even sure that I would have the same reaction and emotional investment in those books if I read them today for the first time, but I think that’s part of the process of growing up with a particular set of authors, books, series, characters or genres. I’ll happily state that Ann Brashares has moved away from The Sisterhood well and shown that she can write other genres, but if you’re looking for a read similar to the adventures you experienced with Bee, Carmen, Tibby and Lena, then you’re in for disappointment.

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.

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