Study Guide

The Future of Us Analysis

  • Genre

    Young Adult Literature; Science Fiction

    Let's check The Future of Us against our handy little checklist of young adult lit criteria, shall we?

    • Teenage protagonists? Check.
    • Young people navigating young people problems like love, family, parties, and friendship? Check.
    • Pretty straight-forward storytelling style? Check.

    Yup—we definitely have a YA book on our hands with this one.

    When it comes to the science fiction bit, though, you might be a little confused. Facebook is real, after all, and it's not like there are aliens up in the mix or anything like that. But since the book is set in the 1990s, for our characters, Facebook is a blast from the future—something they've gained access to against all odds. And for this reason, we're saying The Future of Us dabbles in sci-fi. After all, how else can we explain what happens?

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The Future of Us clearly refers to Emma and Josh, our protagonists. The whole plot evolves around the fact that they find their futures, after all, and as the story progresses, we watch them each navigate this discovery in their own ways.

    Okay, so that covers the whole future element of the title. But what about the us part? When the story opens, Emma has rebuffed Josh's romantic advances and things are officially awkward between these two life-long friends. So when they first find their futures, it's all about his and hers. But as they quickly realize, what they do in the present matters, impacting not only their individual futures, but their shared one as well—so much so, in fact, that they aren't even friends on Facebook at one point. The future, then, is theirs.

    As Emma and Josh both come to understand that the present is what matters more, they begin to repair their relationship in the present. They used to be us and, by the time the book closes, it looks like they're ready to be a duo again. Their rift is repaired, and now all that remains to be seen is what happens now that they're finally together.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    Were you expecting the book to end with some sort of confirmation that Josh and Emma wind up married in the future? We admit that we kind of were. But no such confirmation ever comes—heck, the camera even cuts away before Emma and Josh actually kiss. Check out the last sentence:

    I feel her breath on my lips as we both whisper, "Hopefully everything." (65.42)

    So what gives? Well, a big part of the point of this book is that the present matters more than what's to come. After fretting over where they'll be in fifteen years for most of the book, Emma and Josh have finally let the future go in favor of hanging out in the here and now. And not really knowing what happens with their relationship forces us as readers to do the same thing. Maybe they'll make it, maybe they won't, but right now, they're both definitely pretty happy—and this matters more than what awaits them down the road.

  • Setting

    High School in the 1990s

    Welcome to the 90s, Shmoopers, an era filled with Walkmen, Nirvana, crop tops, and scrunchies. Specifically, The Future of Us is set in small-town Pennsylvania, with much of the action taking place on the Lake Forest High campus.

    It's important that the story is set in the 90s rather than an earlier decade. Why? Because the 1990s were literally right before the Internet changed our lives. When the 2000s rolled around, many things about our culture changed in a really short amount of time—the Internet officially started running the show—and the fact that the story takes place right before this turning point exaggerates what a big change Facebook has had on the way we view social interaction.

    But some things never change. High school is still full of drama, rumors, cool kids, and losers, and there are still bonfire parties that everyone talks about all week and that kid who walks around the locker room without his shorts. The Internet may be up and coming, but stories still spread like wildfire, whether it's because of a Facebook status or because somebody saw Josh in Sydney Mill's convertible near the park on Wednesday afternoon.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (2) Sea Level

    The Future of Us is an easy to read. There aren't any fancy words and the plot moves forward—it's about the future, after all—so the story plugs right along. Some of you may be confused as to how a CD-ROM works, or what a cell phone looked like in 1996. But that's about as confusing as it gets, and nothing a quick Google search can't resolve.

  • Facebook

    Facebook is pretty much the biggest deal of all in The Future of Us. It represents two things: Emma's and Josh's futures, and the ways people communicate. Let's break it down.

    Time Machine

    In Facebook, Emma and Josh find themselves a portal that takes them fifteen years into the future—through Facebook, they can see ahead and glimpse into their futures. And importantly, thanks to Facebook, Emma and Josh can see their present actions reflected in the future; things change then based on what they do now.

    But while we might be thinking that this ability to see the future means that Facebook represents the importance of the future, this is decidedly not the case. For all of the ways in which Emma and Josh are super different from each other (more on this in the "Characters" section), they have one key thing in common: They both need to learn how to check into the present. And what helps them both realize this? In different ways, the answer for each of them is Facebook.

    Josh leaps into his future, immediately pursuing Sydney, whom Facebook tells him will be his wife down the road. And Emma begins constantly tinkering with her life, all in the name of getting her Facebook profile to look the way she wants it to.

    Josh comes to realize, though, that while he may have thought his future with Sydney represented a dream come true, this actually isn't the case—he's just not that into Sydney once he gets to know her. And Emma ultimately understands that the future is something you build by opening yourself up to the present—the future isn't the point, it's the byproduct of a meaningful life now. As Emma says, "Maybe my future self really did need to focus more on the life around her. Maybe it'll help make things better" (62.11). Which brings us to our second point.

    Communication Breakdown

    Josh and Emma struggle enough with communication. In his go with the flow approach, Josh is pretty passive when it comes to what he wants, but Emma's even worse, so let's concentrate on her.

    In 1996, Emma can't break up with her boyfriend—this is obvious from the first sentence of the book: "I can't break up with Graham today, even though I told my friends I'd do it next time I saw him" (1.1). And this problem doesn't stay in Chapter 1. Nope, Emma doesn't dump Graham until way later in the book.

    She also doesn't know how to fix things with Josh, whom she turned down romantically, nor is she capable of picking up the phone and calling her dad to thank him for giving her the computer that's changed her life. At the rate she's going, do you think she needs Facebook to better her communication skills?

    Let's jump ahead to the future: Emma's in a marriage she doesn't like and uses Facebook to complain about it. A lot. For example: "Can't even afford a decent therapist" (5.27). Sure, she may have found a way to voice her complaints openly—but is anyone really listening? And if they are, is a status update the same as a conversation with a friend? We're thinking the answer is no on both counts.

    Facebook, then, represents communication that comes up short. Future Emma may be airing her dirty laundry for all the world to see, but we never get the sense that she's really doing anything about her life. Add this to the fact that 90s Emma places too much value on the communications she's receiving from her future self via Facebook, prioritizing tweaking her future over investing in her life in the present, and Facebook comes to represent a sort of miscommunication. Words are being shared, but their value is being misconstrued all over the place.

    Come Together

    With all this said, it's no wonder that when future Emma deletes her Facebook account, things really start falling into place for Emma and Josh in the 90s. Having both realized how much the present matters, Facebook falling away only encourages this investment for each of them. And as they both settle into the here and now, their communication with each other really picks up: Finally, they're ready to acknowledge their feelings for each other, and see where they might take them.

  • The Condom

    So there's a rather notorious condom featured throughout The Story of Us. Josh keeps it in his wallet—you know, just in case—but he stole it from him brother so long ago that it's kind of old. Kellan and Emma joke about it: "Why do guys carry ratty old condoms in their wallets? When they finally get around to using them, they're either expired or worn out" (38.42). Which is most certainly true when it comes to the one Josh carries.

    The condom represents the fascination that all the characters have with sex. It's on the brain big time, but at the same time, the condom isn't ever used. And although these characters have thought about it, none of them have yet made the decision to have sex. So in a way, the condom actually symbolizes their innocence, as well as their age. They're teens, so sex is on their minds, but none of them have taken the, er, plunge yet.

    The condom also comes to the rescue when Emma's trying to keep Kellan from getting pregnant. She remembers that Josh has it in his wallet and manages to sneak it into a jacket that Kellan borrows. Given the joke she makes earlier about guys and old condoms, though, we're not really sure why she thinks Josh's will do what she hopes. But perhaps this is just another example of how the condom, instead of representing promiscuity or something like that, really represents innocence.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Central Narrator)

    The Future of Us is written in first person. It's also written in the present tense—we hear what's happening in the moment—and this makes the story feel active, like we have a front row seat as everything unfolds. But there's a bit of a twist at work in this book: There are two first-person narrators. Emma and Josh are both telling us their stories, taking turns by chapter.

    Having two narrators is cool because we get to be on the insides of two different minds. It's kind of like we're friends with both of them and hear both sides of the story—and because they're both telling us the story, as readers, we get to see a bigger picture than we otherwise would. There's something a little ironic about this in that the book communicates really well with readers, while our two main characters struggle with, well, communication.

    • Plot Analysis


      The Golden Ticket

      Emma and Josh are going through an awkward phase in their friendship. The short version: Josh likes Emma, Emma rejected him. Things only get more complicated, though, when they find a CD-ROM that takes them to their future Facebook profiles. Right off the bat, these two feel very different about their futures—but they also both totally care about them, as well. Josh wants his to stay just as it is, while Emma is not thrilled with hers. And with this, the stage is officially set for some tension and strangeness.

      Rising Action

      Not All Futures Are Created Equal

      Emma is unhappy and keeps trying to change her boring future. Like, constantly. Josh, however, ends up marrying a major babe, and would really like to keep it that way. So while Emma tries to boycott her future, and Josh introduces himself to his hot future wife, tension only rises between these two already-awkward friends. Will Emma's meddlesome ways wind up screwing up Josh's chances for his dreams to come true? Is there anything Emma can possibly due to avoid a miserable life down the road? Things are heating up, Shmoopers.


      Back to December

      Emma reaches her breaking point when Josh is dating his hot future wife and she's miserable and alone, with a slew of nice ex-boyfriends. She finally realizes her problem: She won't let anyone close enough to love her. This has made her past, present, and future all miserable places. It's a major eureka moment for Emma, and once she realizes this, we get the sense that some sort of resolution to her drama with both her own life and Josh can't be too far off.

      Falling Action

      You Can't Always Get What You Want

      Emma resigns herself to Josh being happy without her, and she goes to a bonfire with Kellan, where she sees Josh and Sydney together. But Josh is also doing his own re-thinking: He finds that things with Sydney aren't as awesome as he hoped—and as he does, he lets go of the future Facebook promised him.


      Kiss and Make Up

      Sad Emma and Sad Josh both go home alone after the bonfire. But all is not lost—Tyson and Kellan pick them up and take them to GoodTimez Pizza for some late night fun. Emma and Josh move quickly from talking to holding hands to admitting that things have been weird. They close their story with a nice romantic kiss. Looks like the present has plenty to offer these two, and at this point, this is all either of them wants.

    • Allusions

      Literary References

      Pop Culture References

      • Friends (1.27)
      • Alanis Morissette (1.37)
      • Pearl Jam (1.37)
      • "Crash Into Me" by Dave Matthews (1.38; 13.1)
      • Dave Matthews (34.25; 54.7)
      • Toy Story (2.1; 13.13)
      • Seinfeld (3.4; 50.13)
      • American Beauty (3.19)
      • Titanic (3.19)
      • Toy Story 3 (3.19)
      • Leonardo DiCaprio (9.2)
      • Back to the Future (9.36; 14.35)
      • Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (16.13)
      • Will Smith (16.15)
      • "Wonderwall" by Oasis (23.22)
      • Thrasher magazine (28.8; 43.1)
      • "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves (30.18; 33.1)
      • Hootie and the Blowfish (34.16)
      • "Basket Case" by Green Day (34.17)
      • Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen (35.27)
      • "Celebrate Good Times" by Kool & the Gang (36.1)
      • "When I Come Around" by Green Day (36.39)
      • Archie comics (39.39; 39.44)
      • "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men (41.29)
      • Wayne's World (48.19; 50.11; 52.11)
      • "What Would You Say?" by Dave Matthews (54.9)
      • Scooby-Doo (55.10)
      • My Kind of Blue by Miles Davis (62.12)