I’ve been hearing good things about A.S. King’s writing ever since I started blogging back in 2009. Her books are blogger favorites, and though the buzz surrounding them kindled some interest, I was never so overwhelmed by the praise that I felt a need to pick up one of her titles. That changed this winter when I participated in the final round of judging for the 2014 CYBILS awards, in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future was one of the finalists, so I was required to read it. Reaction: **hands clasped to heart** I loved everything about this weird, wonderful book.
—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.
Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities--but not for Glory, who has no plan for what's next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she's never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way...until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person's infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions—and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women's rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she'll do anything to make sure this one doesn't come to pass.
Glory O’Brien is a soon-to-be high school graduate with no after-graduation plans. Her mother killed herself when Glory was four. Her mother was a gifted photographer, and Glory is a photographer herself. She wonders daily (hourly?) if she’ll go the same way. In the meantime, she’s trying to figure herself out through her mother’s images, playing with perspective, asking hard questions about her family history, and, on a whim, drinking a petrified bat with her best friend (?!). She’s pretty sure the bat is what started the visions of the future. Add one more item to the list of things that make Glory question her sanity.
Glory is an isolated deep thinker (because who really asks the big questions anymore, especially fresh out of high school?), and she’s examining every part of her life for evidence of insanity. That examination raises many questions: What is normal? Is it okay to be not-normal? Is everything predetermined? What happens when people are confronted with suicide? Are we all mundane? Are we all special? Even with all of these notions swirling around in her head, the story is concrete – Glory is solid. Her story is about finding herself. It’s about growing up, in mind and emotion, and letting go of the crutches of childhood. Glory has a glimpse of the future, and it prompts her to look beyond the now, beyond herself, to reach conclusions about society and its inherent conditioning. Glory might be a little weird, but it’s the good kind.
This book touched on so many important topics: the philosophical split in American culture, the patriarchy, a fascination with cult life, the societal “machine” that pumps out indebted college graduates, an obsession with sex, and the isolation of the individual. It asked if the future is headed somewhere dark, and if it is, what choices are we making or not making that contribute to that future. And yet, despite all of those issues, heavy as they are, this was not a dark book. It was a quick, funny young adult read with heaps of literary merit.
How did it come together, then? When it might have veered into too-quirky or too-sad territory, Glory and her unique mental dialogue pulled the narrative away from the edge. Her sweet/bittersweet/hilarious take on growing up and away from childhood carried the book. Glory’s voice was frank, healthy, and fit together in a way that managed darkly funny rather than horrid or melancholy. I know that the book must have been a bear to piece together, what with flashbacks and bits of the future, but the prose is effortless and evocative, and that is a hallmark of incredible writing.
In all, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future is an odd, intelligent book that manages to be weird as all get-out and awesome and extremely readable at the same time. I foresee a lot of A.S. King books in my reading future.
Recommended for: fans of Francesca Lia Block and Kimberly Pauley’s Ask Me, and anyone who enjoys young adult fiction and magical realism.