In Ann Brashares’ new young adult novel, The Here and Now, set in 2096, a blood plague threatens the human race. Weather has become unpredictable. Storms routinely devastate cities to the extent that people must migrate. Brashares’ heroine, Prenna, is trapped in a nightmare reality, in which plague leads to voluntary quarantine. Crises are compounded by environmental and economic disasters. Death is so ubiquitous that there are communal burials; the dead are left on front lawns or sidewalks for pickup. Mothers do not name newborn babies because so few live. Prenna has lost both of her younger brothers. Time travel technology seems to provide an opportunity to improve the future by improving the past. A community of plague-free time travelers, including Prenna, immigrates to 2010 to attempt to save the human race.
Once they arrive, however, the complacent world leaders refuse to heed their warnings and change. These leaders are enjoying the comforts of their world and do not want to do anything to threaten the community. The time immigrants are given new identities because they do not know how their actions will affect future events. They cannot risk using names that may be similar to those of relatives who live in 2010. Time immigrants are not to receive any medical care, enter any religious facility, or take public photos. They are not to bring any attention to themselves, but are expected to blend in with the non-time-traveling residents of the period. Some of the time travelers want to search for the causes of the blood plague; these rebels disappear or die mysteriously.
This book is refreshingly different from Brashares’ Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Young adults will enjoy the protagonists’ determination to save the future of the human race and their boldness in standing up to the traveler’s community leaders. Ann Brashares has written a young adult novel with broad audience appeal. The romance that develops between Prenna and Nathan, the boy who finds her upon her arrival in 2010, will thrill readers of Brashares’ Sisterhood series as the more recent book is tender in its portrayal of friendship that becomes romantic love. Prenna is at first afraid to befriend Nathan, but learns to both trust and love him. “I feel his body against mine, the little twitches as he goes over to sleep. It’s a matter of great trust, I think, to be able to fall asleep in a person’s arms,” she thinks (ch. 21). More mature readers of dystopian fiction and time travel are likely to enjoy the way Brashares intertwines these themes with modern day concerns over global warming. The culmination is a bit weak because there are flaws in the heroine’s plan, but Prenna is determined and fortunate. Young adult readers are unlikely to mind the fast moving events, but adult readers may be annoyed by the convenient coincidences that lead Prenna and Nathan to the right people and locations.
Prenna evolves from a scared, obedient girl into a rebellious, independent young woman by trusting her instincts and challenging widely-held beliefs. She is monitored daily by Mr. Robert, her community counselor, until she witnesses discrepancies. When she eventually demands that he “leave [her] alone,” he smirks and intends to report her, but she does not back down. “I’m not afraid of you, and I’m not afraid of the rules. At least, I’m not afraid of breaking the rules that matter,” she says (ch. 22). She is gaining courage to make changes that will help her future.
Brashares narrates the story through varied perspectives. Most of the chapters are told from Prenna’s first person point of view. The first chapter is composed in third person to provide background information. Occasionally, rules and rule numbers are posted throughout the novel to remind the reader of guidelines the community is expected to follow:
Rule 1. We must uphold allegiance to the community, to its survival and its safety, and accept the guidance of our leaders and counselors without question or discussion. Rule 2. We must respect time’s integrity and her natural sequence. 3. We must never employ the experience gained to knowingly intervene in that natural sequence. 4. We must never challenge that sequence to avoid misfortune or death (ch. 1).
Readers expect a predictable apocalyptic end, but the conclusion reveals a surprising connection between Prenna’s mission, her relationships, and humankind’s future. Readers may be inspired to recommit in efforts to recycle, walk more and buy local.
Brashares, Ann. The Here and Now. New York: Random House, 2014. Kindle file.