Book Review — The Here And Now

This is my fifth review as a member of NetGalley, a digital review service where professional readers (such as librarians, bloggers, booksellers, educators, and those in the media) can obtain free advance copies of forthcoming books from publishers for review. The Here and Now was written by Ann Brashares, author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and My Name is Memory. The publisher, Delacorte Press (owned by Random House), categorizes the book as Juvenile Fiction—Girls and Women (ages 12 and up). The book will be published on 8 April 2014. There are no spoilers in this review.

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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.

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Please don’t think NetGalley forced me to read a work of juvenile fiction. That’s not the way NetGalley does things. Readers choose the books they would like to review, and the publishers decide whether to approve the request. So far, I haven’t been rejected by a press. I chose this book because 1) it’s about time travel, and 2) I’m trying to branch out in my reading in my attempt to grow as a writer.

The book’s synopsis caught my attention from the start. As someone with an interest in how humans will ultimately respond to the realities of climate change, I wanted to see how this author addressed the topic. Of course, as an adult, I had to remind myself I am not the target audience for the book.  I also had to put aside my personal thoughts on time travel. The reader must accept the premise that we can change events in the past that will alter our own present—something I don’t believe will hold up to future scientific exploration.

That aside, I found the story engaging and the events leading to Prenna’s original time completely plausible. The book moves at a good pace overall, although I did think the all-important “middle” suffered the slow down that affects more books than it probably should. Still, I understand how the author might want to reinforce the difficulty of Prenna’s situation and the choices she must ultimately make.

No matter the vision an author has in mind for the characters, readers have a habit of interpreting them in very different ways. Personally, I found both Prenna and (especially) Ethan to be a bit too perfect and all but one of the adults to be the classic obstacles to their own goals. Maybe this is what today’s reader of “juvenile fiction” wants, but for me, the characterization was a bit too stereotyped. And the idea that two teenagers will make everything right is a stretch.

But the book was an enjoyable diversion over several overloaded work-day evenings. The writing isn’t “dumbed down” for younger readers, and the story addresses some serious issues that will likely challenge the readers as adults. Just maybe the story will encourage some readers to enter fields where they could make a difference and help bring about a different future without the need for time travel.

The Here and Now will be released on Tuesday, 8 April 2014 and will be available in both paper and electronic formats.

37 thoughts on “Book Review — The Here And Now

    • It’s always a good way to catch my attention, too. Like anything else, some are better than others. This one was a pleasant way to relax over a few evenings. And it’s been many years since I read anything that would be classified as “juvenile fiction”!

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    • Definitely not Sisterhood, and some reviewers I saw weren’t happy with that at all. But I couldn’t expect writers to limit themselves to recreating a fan favorite, and I wouldn’t let that color my view of their “new” books. Thank heaven we all enjoy different things, or many of us might have no chance for an audience of our own!

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      • I am reminded of Elizabeth Gilbert’s departure from Eat, Pray, Love when she wrote Signature of all Things. It was like two different people wrote the books. I’m okay with that but many of her fans were grumbling under their breath about it.

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        • Some folks just don’t want to see a favorite author do something different. I can understand why JK Rowlings went with a pen name on her last book. Come on, people—she shouldn’t have to spend the rest of her life writing Harry Potter novels!

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  1. Good for you for venturing out of your usual book-reading genre. Between reading bloggers’ books and selections for my monthly book club, I’ve been doing that much more as well, though I still haven’t read much young-adult.

    A pandemic virus and time-travel—reminds me of another book I’ve read… ;)

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    • I was reminded of that book, too. ;) And they’re good examples of how the “same” idea can be done so many different ways. New writers shouldn’t be disheartened to hear that “there are no new ideas.” Because writers have been doing a darn good job of creating a lot of interesting and entertaining books with those “same old ideas” for centuries.

      (Shh, don’t tell AB, but I preferred The Seneca Scourge. ;) In all fairness, though, I don’t think many younger-oriented books are my thing.)

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  2. Sounds like a super interesting premise. It sounds very much like Carrie’s, except that hers is written for an older audience. I’m signed up for Netgalley, but haven’t done anything on it yet. I am bogged down by enough other books that I haven’t tested out how to do it yet. Good for you for doing it.

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    • I just mentioned to Carrie how they’re good examples of “the same idea” being done in such different ways. Luckily for readers, writers can provide many good and different choices of books on “the same idea.” Otherwise, we wouldn’t have much to read!

      NetGalley is very simple to use, so you’ll have no problem figuring it out when you have the time. I’ve chosen a couple books by browsing, but I’ve also gone with a couple of the suggestions they emailed to me. Those are handy when I feel like I’m too busy to browse the offerings.

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      • That seems easy. I usually am kept busy with enough reading from another site I watch that I haven’t spread my wings to Netgalley yet. But maybe some day.

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  3. Sometimes you just need a “light” read. Time travel and pandemic – great trails to venture down – although not new ideas, each writer’s path is a bit different – I can see why you were intrigued.
    Hope this one catches the target audience’s attention – thinking is good.
    Nicely written review

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    • I am trying to read a wider variety of material these days, although I won’t be doing much tonight. A couple of nice days have set the tree pollen levels soaring, and my eyes feel like someone kicked sand in them. I won’t complain, though, since there’s no snow in the forecast, at least for now. The Washington Post, though, says the long-term models are showing the potential for it around the 9th or 10th. Please let those be wrong!

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      • everything here is green…green with pollen. Even the dog is sneezing. Sometimes a winter like we’ve had means a milder summer…I could use that…but more snow (back under the covers. Seriously. The schools will be in session until July at this rate)

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  4. It’ll be interesting to see how her novel does, if it is such a detour from her more popular titles. It’s too bad that she’s getting heat for not writing another story like all her others. Personally, I get bored with authors who write the same way for all of their books. It gets predictable.

    I like hearing about YA books that don’t dumb down the prose, which probably doesn’t surprise you. So, I would probably borrow it from the library just on that aspect alone. Thanks for the review!

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    • It must be really difficult to write something that becomes so popular that an audience wants more of the same from every book. I can understand why JK Rowling went with a pen name for her last book. To me, it’s no big deal if I enjoy some of an author’s books but not all. I guess some folks feel differently, though.

      I thought of TOC while I was reading this one—not that they’re at all similar in subject matter! But it was clear to me that TOC (and Spark) deserves its spot on shelves just as much as this one. I hope that day isn’t too far off!

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  5. I didn’t think I was a fan of sci-fi which, to me, is time travel but Carrie’s book proved me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed hers. I think it’s great that you review other writers’ books. That’s how the writing community should be–supportive. I probably won’t read this one for the simple fact I’m not a reader of young adult fiction but I bet your review will encourage those who enjoy that genre to read it! Nice, J.

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    • Time travel has really moved out of straight sci-fi and into other genres. It’s not typically my thing, but time-travel romance has become very popular. And then you have a literary fiction book like The Time Traveler’s Wife. And then Carrie tied it into a medical thriller. So many possibilities! This really isn’t my normal genre, either, but I’m trying to read at least a few things beyond my normal “comfort zone.” Hopefully, that will also help me mature as a writer. ;)

      I probably will never review a blog buddy’s book because I wouldn’t want someone else wondering why I didn’t review theirs. So I’ll stick to featuring links in my widgets for readers to see. I think that’s a good way for me to be supportive!

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  6. Most Kid stories/Young adult fiction don’t interest me much, either, JM, for the reasons you mention (adult stereotypes, implausible hero complexes). But, I think it’s great that you’re taking the step into other genres for your own interest and wellbeing. And, I loved this perspective of yours: Just maybe the story will encourage some readers to enter fields where they could make a difference and help bring about a different future without the need for time travel. Just like flicks like “Videodrome”, “Tootsie”, and “Broadcast News” inspired me to go into video production! That’s not where I ended up, of course, but I genuinely appreciate the idea of readers or viewers getting more from a story than what’s on the surface.

    Everyone must have their own ideas about time travel. I’m curious to be able to add your take to my shelf. ;)

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    • Someday, I hope I’ll have Death Out of Time truly finished and published. If it goes to plan, there would be at least a couple of followup books to it. Of course, none of my writing seems to be going to plan! :)

      When I was younger, I loved books that inspired me to do something after I read them. It’s a bit harder to be motivated these days (already established in a career and such), but I remember that wonderful feeling I would get. Like, “Wow, I’d love to do something like that!” I’d really love for a young reader to come away from this book thinking he or she would like to go into something like alternative energy research. Personally, I think our window to come up with long-term, plausible adaptations to climate change will close before too long. Time will tell, right? :)

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  7. Nice review! It’s good to know what people really thought while reading it instead of just hearing a recap of the story. It sounds a lot like one I just read. So do you think if we could change the past, that wouldn’t alter the present because a different thread or timeline would form? I do love those time travel stories – probably because of that possibility for change. And yes it’s so true that we need more books that focus on making a difference in the here and now!

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    • Yes, I’m in the camp that thinks changing the past would result in a new universe/timeline being created rather than cause changes in our own present that we might or might not realize. Alas, I don’t think we’ll be able to do it in my lifetime, so I don’t think I’ll ever find out if I’m right or wrong on that one. ;) This does come up in Death Out of Time, which I really want to get right when it comes to theories of time travel.

      If only I could go back in time and tell my younger self to start these stories a heck of a lot sooner! :D

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  8. I’m really enjoying these reviews, JM. It’s good to get out of that comfort zone and into something different, although this premise does remind me of Carrie’s book ;)

    I’d be interested to know if you think doing these reviews is helping with your writing (I’d only like to know this because I don’t do reviews and am thinking maybe I should try in order to get over my ongoing procrastination) :D

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    • The similarities between this book and Carrie’s really end with time travel and a pandemic. They’re good examples of just how differently the “same” idea can be told. Lucky for us, of course, since there are only supposed to be a handful of truly “different” story lines out there. ;)

      I don’t know if the reviews help my writing directly, but I think reading the books that I review does—if that makes sense. I’m trying to broaden my reading selections, and doing these NetGalley reviews helps me do that. The opportunity to read advance copies of so many different books is a great one. And to me, writing reviews qualifies as “practice” time at the writing craft in general. Since I don’t do too many of them, I also don’t feel like they “get in the way” of my fiction writing time.

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  9. I too JM thought of Carrie’s book. Myself i’m not much into time travel but I enjoyed reading your review. I was more curious about how you reviewed a book than the book itself. I found your writing flowed and what you said was really solid. I liked that. And also that you wanted to expand your reading experiences to improve your writing. Good advice. :)

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    • Thank you for the lovely words, Carol! Coming from an academic background, I suspect I approach book reviews differently from many other writers. And if I thought a book was poorly written, I simply wouldn’t do a review. It would pain me too much to say such a thing publicly. I’ve seen a number of excellent writers say that reading is a vital part of becoming a good writer, and I agree completely with that idea. And even if I might never write in a certain genre, there is always something to be learned from its good writers. :)

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  10. Great review JM. I do enjoy reading young adult books as they are often easy, enjoyable reads. But only the ones where, as you say, “The writing isn’t “dumbed down” for younger readers, and the story addresses some serious issues …” The ones that only focus on the love triangle or have no real depth — I can pass on.

    The time travel concept always gets me!!! I love the complexity and the many possible theories of it’s impact. It’s one reason I eagerly await your Death Out of Time novel. The premise grabbed me right away. Thing is, I can’t imagine myself writing about time travel … because of the complexity and the many possible theories of it’s impact ;)

    Spring has been mild here, but so glad to know winter is done (I think!) Hope you are enjoying warmer temps and longer days!!!

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    • I’ve also had enough of vampires, werewolves, and the like, but to each their own, right? It’d be awfully hard for writers if we were limited to a few themes or character types! :) Someday sooner rather than later, I hope Madeleine and I will figure out the right way to tell her story in Death Out of Time. And more than anything, I hope the final version will be worth the wait!

      Keeping time travel logistically consistent is tough. And if you’re a proponent of its limitations like me, that makes it even harder. I did not come up with easy first stories, that’s for sure!

      Spring is finally peeking out here, too. Daffodils and some other early bulbs are blooming, as are the ornamental plum trees. Cherries should be peaking late next week, which is really late these days. Right now, I’m enjoying a sunny window with greening grass outside. My head and sinuses aren’t quite so happy about the tree pollen. ;)

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  11. An intriguing review of a book I’d never normally pick up – it’s great that you’re reading wider to have a positive influence on your writing. It’s amazing the variety of books I’ve either read or have on my to read list just since I started blogging – whether that’s a book written by a fellow blogger or one they’ve reviewed, it’s introduced me to lots of new writing.

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    • My reading horizons have expanded with blogging, too. And the Kindle does make that more affordable. ;) Doing these reviews through NetGalley is at no cost, too, which I find to be a good approach. Publishers (both traditional and independent) can really get their works in front of readers’ eyes through this outlet. The offerings run from independent authors to big names and cover every genre of fiction and also nonfiction. If I weren’t so busy with working and writing my own novels, I’d probably be doing more of these reviews!

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    • I checked some of the other reviews as I was working on mine, and I think this is generating a “love it or hate it” response. Some books seem to be more polarized, and this may just be one of them. Some reviewers seemed to think it’s too different from the “Sisterhood” books and don’t like it for that reason. But I can certainly understand authors wanting to do different things, and I wouldn’t expect them to keep churning out “Harry Potter” throughout their career. And, hey, it’s time travel. Always good to see what other writers are doing with it, right? :)

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  12. It’s always good to branch out and read outside ones interests, and you are absolutely right, it helps you grow as writer. I haven’t read any of Brashares books, didn’t quite catch my interest, I guess I wasn’t the right target audience ;D

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    • Luckily, there are a wide variety of audiences for a wide variety of books! Now, if my rebuild will just show some maturing writing when I finally complete it. ;)

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