Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler both had published books under their belts before they got together to write The Future of Us, their new collaboration that came out at the end of 2011. Jay Asher is known for the bestselling Thirteen Reasons Why, and Carolyn Mackler has published five other young adult novels, including The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things and Tangled. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to see them speak at a local high school library and get my copy of The Future of Us signed. They were quite funny and seemed excited to be speaking to a large, enrapt, and (mostly) high school audience. Whenever I read a book written by two authors I am always stumped by the mechanics of how it was done, and Asher and Mackler presented a highly entertaining and informative description of just how they accomplished this feat.
Asher lives on the West Coast, and Mackler lives on the East Coast, so their writing was done almost entirely through email. Several years before they started writing together, they began exchanging emails, complimenting each other on their publishing successes. They decided their writing styles and sensibilities were similar enough to collaborate, so they began throwing ideas around for a book. Before long they came up with the idea for The Future of Us (although they would not finalize the title until the very end) based on a “what if” scenario: what if you could know ahead of time who your future spouse was going to be? That idea led to the premise of the book: In 1996, a high school junior named Emma gets a new computer and with it, an AOL CD-Rom to hook her up to the still-new internet. When she logs on for the first time, an unusual screen pops up that says “Facebook.” Scrolling down and reading the entries, Emma discovers that she is reading about her future life, and the lives of her friends and family.
Because they didn’t want the book to read as if two writers had written it, they began writing it one chapter at a time, with the two main characters, Emma and Josh, speaking in alternating chapters. For example, Asher would write a “Josh” chapter and send it to Mackler to edit. She would then go over it and rewrite the elements that she thought needed changing. She then sent it back to Asher for him to edit again. This continued until they were both satisfied with the chapter. Then Mackler would write an “Emma” chapter and the process would repeat, until the book was finished. In this way, the book flows well and it’s almost impossible to distinguish the two writers. I know some readers may complain that the voices aren’t distinct enough, and that Josh and Emma sound exactly the same, but it didn’t bother me. The cohesion made for a smooth flowing story that was a quick, easy read.
The other fun thing I learned was that Asher and Mackler decided they needed a “code” name while they were working on the book. Asher came up with the “Harmony Alley Car-Jackers,” which is actually the letters in “Jay Asher” and “Carolyn Mackler” mixed up. (It’s true, check it out!)
Because The Future of Us was on my Top Ten List of Books I Never Got to Read in 2011, and I knew I couldn’t go to the book signing without reading it first, I quickly read it over a five-hour time period (yes, it really is a fast read!). My rating? I was surprised how little the book was actually about Facebook. Yes, there are moments when Emma signs on to the internet to see what’s going on with her character, but her parents put restrictions on her internet time, especially since in 1996, most families didn’t have a dedicated phone line for their computers. Mostly, the book dealt with relationships: those in the present and those in the future. When Emma and Josh discover that they can actually influence future events by causing “ripples” (altering their actions in the present to change the future), they tentatively experiment with this theory. Emma’s Facebook status leads her to believe she is unhappily married in the future, so she takes control and manages to “marry” someone else. After doing this several times and finding her future self no happier than when she started, she realizes that it is better to focus on the present and let the future take care of itself. Although many of the boy-girl scenes are geared towards the high school crowd and seemed silly to this jaded grown-up, the book overall succeeded with its sweet message of hopefulness.