Study Guide

Emma Nelson in The Future of Us

By Asher, Jay and Mackler, Carolyn

Emma Nelson

Age: Probably sixteen

Appearance: Brown curly hair, brown eyes

Activities Include: Running track, studying biology, playing the saxophone, and stalking Cody Grainger

Futures Include: Marrying Jordan Jones Jr., being unemployed, marrying Kevin Storm, being a marine biologist, living in England (and hating it), marrying and then divorcing Isaac Rawlings

Girl Next Door

Emma Nelson is a pretty normal girl. As in, she's both pretty and normal. In Chapter 1 she narrates: "I change into shorts and a jog bra, and twist my curly hair into a scrunchie" (1.32). Classic cute girl next door, right? And we assure that scrunchies were totally still cool in the 90s.

But back to Emma. She plays sports, she's in band, and she's good at science—so while she's not in the super popular crowd, she has a decent social life at school. She certainly doesn't have a problem getting guys to ask her out.

But despite the ease with which she finds boys to date, Emma remains spunky, determined, and a bit stubborn. After telling us how hot she thinks Cody Grainger is, for instance, she says:

While I may pine for Cody, I still have to live my life. For the past two months, I've been going out with Graham Wilde. (1.41)

It's important to Emma that she stay grounded and not go crazy over a crush. Heck, she'll keep going for runs and dating other guys instead of waiting around for the one who piques her interest the most—girl has a life to lead, after all.

Love is for Losers

Emma is the practical—or you might say cynical—type who doesn't believe in love. This is a Big Deal with her, which we know because we find it out right away (and then it keeps on coming up throughout the book). In Chapter 1, Emma finds herself fantasizing over a classmate and says:

Even though I don't believe in true love, I could reconsider that for Cody. (1.39)

Cody, of course, is her ultimate crush. But as a general rule, Emma's proudly just not the touchy feely type. If she were, she probably would realize that falling for her best friend was the most romantic thing ever. Instead, though, she prefers to keep her cool. We will say, however, that for a non-believer in romance, Emma sure does date a good number of guys—plus there's the whole "reconsidering" bit when it comes to true love and Cody. Emma may talk the talk, but we're not sure she really walks the walk when it comes to romance.

But here's the catch: There may be some underlying fears of love driving Emma to insist so vocally—and so often—that she thinks love is for the birds. See, her mom has been married several times, and strange men coming in and out of her life has been frustrating for Emma. When it comes to her mom's latest husband, Emma says at one point: "I can't hear Martin's name without rolling my eyes" (1.19). So yeah, she's fed up with romance on the home front.

And adding to her resistance is the fact that her best friend, Kellan, is basically Emma's romantic total opposite: Kellan is obsessed with love. She and her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Tyson, are pretty much a saga that won't end. And as Kellan's friend, this gets old for Emma. As obsessed with each other as Tyson and Kellan may be, they don't exactly leave Emma eager to get into a serious relationship.

In short, Emma may say she doesn't believe in love, but we're more inclined to believe that the love she's seen has left a bad taste in her mouth. And like our moms always said, don't knock it until you've tried it.

Why Do Today What You Can Do Tomorrow?

Emma's also a procrastinator. Like, big time. When we first meet her in Chapter 1, she's putting off breaking up with her boyfriend even though she tells us: "I told my friends I'd do it the next time I saw him" (1.1). For the record, she doesn't break up with Graham until Chapter 32. She also doesn't thank her Dad for the new computer—you know, the one she checks her Facebook on throughout the book—until Chapter 56. Emma just might be as resistant to crossing things off her to-do list as she is to opening herself up to love.

And what does this say about Emma's character? Well it's not the best trait. It makes her careless to the point where she hurts people she loves. For example, she really hurts her dad's feelings by not calling to thank him for the computer. In Chapter 42 she says, "I feel guilty that I haven't called to thank him yet" (42.25)—but it's too little, too late. Her mom's reminded her to pick up the phone, and Emma's made serious use of the computer, but she just doesn't bother to dial her Dad's number and acknowledge his gift.

Disappointing though this may be to people in Emma's life, for us as readers, we can recognize it as one of the key obstacles Emma has to overcome. Ultimately, Facebook helps her realize that she has to be active about her life. She finds that she's been going along, keeping "enough distance so [she] would never get hurt" (56.49)—and that if she keeps this up, she'll end up with very little in her life besides whatever happens to fall into her lap. You know, like Jordan Jones Jr., who cheats on her, or Kevin Storm, who drags her to Europe and makes her quit her dream job.

Moral of the story? You get what you give. And in the end, Emma really begins to understand this one.

Emma's Epiphany

Emma finds out a lot about herself throughout the book, but perhaps her biggest a-ha moment comes when she finally realizes that Cody, the crush of her dreams, is actually a jerk. It dawns on her that "he doesn't care about me for who I am. He cares about me because I've been worshipping him" (56.24). And to her credit, just like that, Emma's so over him. Girl even walks herself home—and it's a long walk.

This revelation makes Emma realize why every attempt to change her future only makes it worse. She's imagined Cody being wonderful all along, only to find out that he's an idiot, and likewise, she's been imagining her future being a certain way, but all she needs to do is to live her present; she says, "maybe it has everything to do with what happens now" (56.45). She's been pining for Cody instead of investing in the relationships she already has, and she's been fretting over her future instead of building the life she's actively leading.

And here's the thing: Just like she might have avoided spending so much time drooling over Cody if she bothered to get to know him, her future in general might sort itself out if she just focuses on tending to her present.

The bottom line is that Emma's been caring about the wrong things—the wrong guys, the wrong future. And because of this, she's missed what's right under her nose and what she's actually wanted all along: Her life right now and Josh. As soon as Emma puts this all together, though, she leaves the future alone and jumps into the ball pit of the present. No seriously: That's really where we leave her at the end of the book, holding hands and smooching with Josh.