Despite having heard of the book The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, I did not recognize Ann Brashares’ name as the author when presented with the opportunity to review The Here and Now. I am an avid fan of Young Adult fiction, and the premise seemed interesting. I am a little wary of YA novels at the moment, simply because I have seen too many fall into the trap of aping a more successful and better-known book/series, but I put faith that this sounded different enough that I would not be disappointed.
To my relief, I was not mistaken in that hope.
There’s nothing terribly complicated about this book, but there truly doesn’t need to be. They are Romeo and Juliet in the devastated present/future, in a world where plague and death have driven humans to use time-travel for something we never would have considered initially: colonizing the past. Prenna James is one of these travelers, living within the borders of her Community, kept to twelve strict rules in an effort to keep them safe from the “time natives,” or those living in their proper time and place. The anachronisms the travelers have become are dangerous to the time natives, and as Prenna says, all their fears are tied up in the twelfth rule of their Community: “We must never, under any circumstances, develop a physically or emotionally intimate relationship with any person outside the Community.”
But this is a YA novel. Prenna isn’t going to stay by these rules for long. And that’s where Ethan Jarves comes in. Ethan is in Prenna’s class, smart, cute, funny…and just seems to know a bit too much, or see a bit too far. What Prenna doesn’t remember is that Ethan saw Prenna when she first came into his time—and still remembers her. Toss in a bit of healthy adolescent rebellion, and you have the keys to a wonderful avalanche of one thing after another.
Brashares’ writing is simple without sounding condescending; she manages to both write to her age group and never sound like she’s writing down to them. She knows her story, and knows exactly what we need to know in order to follow the plot. No character is ever brought in without reason, and the twists are just surprising enough to keep us guessing. Prenna is believable in her conflict between the world she knows and her love of Ethan; Ethan is more than believable as the cautious outsider who guesses he knows more than he should, but doesn’t want to say anything for fear of being wrong. They sounded like me and my friends at their age. They are believable high school seniors—which is not always a given in YA literature, unfortunately. It is too easy to write someone too young or too old.
The romance is believable as well, which is nice. It isn’t love at first sight, but it isn’t the more drawn out agony that many adults put themselves through. These are two teenagers, discovering themselves and each other, who would really like to go further than they have…and can’t. It’s what makes the ending of the book—which I won’t reveal—that much more appealing. Perhaps it’s not a classic Hollywood ending, where everything gets wrapped up in a neat little bow and everyone lives happily every after…but it’s the ending this book needed. Personally, I find it refreshing to find an author who’s not afraid to write the right ending, instead of sacrificing it for the ending they think the world needs or expects.
Because, as the book itself so eloquently puts it: “Who knows what happens next?”