This month’s “Red-Hot Read” is an excerpt from The Here and Now by Ann Brashares. If you didn’t know, Ann Brashares also wrote The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But what’s really important about Ann Brashares is that she’s somehow managed to publish a book called The Here and Now where the premise is: a bunch of teenagers have come from the future and the one rule that these time-travelers must follow is to not fall in love with anyone from the present. [Matthew says: Insert your own “traveling pants” joke here.] It’s okay for them to rip the fabric of time apart, as long as they all grow up as lonely cat ladies and gentlemen. [Ariel says: Obviously the butterfly effect is complete and utter malarkey, and really we only have to worry about the power of love altering the future if time travel is ever a possibility.]
The main character is a 17-year-old girl named Prenna. Since the one rule is that she can’t fall in love, she obviously has a love interest (named Ethan). [Matthew says: YOU HAD ONE JOB, PRENNA.] The excerpt starts out with them getting some burgers and shakes on the beach before heading down to the ocean and wading into the water.
I dig my toes into the fine wet sand, trying to think of nothing other than the pleasure of the nerve endings in my feet.
If she’s in Florida, she should be thinking about how those nerve endings are also good for finding stingrays. Shuffle your feet, Prenna!
Ethan reaches for my hand. It’s the first time he’s done that when he wasn’t pulling me through a window or reaching to comfort me in some dire place. [Ariel says: I get that this is an excerpt and all, but it’s so fucking unclear why he’s pulling her through so many goddamned windows or what kind of “dire” places she even means. Is Ethan from the past and helping her with…something? Or has he traveled from the future with her to help her with…something?] [Matthew says: Although “dire place” actually kinda sounds like it means “vagina”.] This time, he holds my hand just for the joy of it.
After this line, Prenna thinks more about her nerve endings and then drags Ethan deeper into the ocean.
We go farther out and just bob in the sunshine for a long time. I know there are scary things under the water, with chomping teeth and waving, stinging arms, but I don’t fear them.
Personally, I think Prenna is being awfully cavalier about all of the terrifying sea creatures that are probably slowly swarming around them. But I legitimately fear the ocean and all other bodies of water, so I’m probably not the best person to be objectively commenting on this story. Although I do appreciate that Ann Brashares has given me the mental image of a shark waving at me with human arms. [Ariel says: Yeah! What the fuck kind of sea creatures are meant to be in this ocean?]
Prenna and Ethan head back to land (good choice, guys) and then the weird things start happening.
He lifts himself up onto one elbow and leans over me. He lets his fingers drift up my arm. He lifts my damp, salty tank top to my ribs and stares at these new parts of my body.
What? Was she actually an alien in the future? Did Cosmo forget to tell me that important fact in its three-sentence introduction to this story? Maybe she’s referring to the fact that Ethan has never seen her ribs before, so they’re new to him, but it kind of sounds like she just installed ribs in her own body and is watching Ethan stare at them. [Ariel says: Because this is a book clearly worthy of deeply considered interpretation, I’m going to wager that she’s talking about her boobs because she’s just gone through puberty. Trying to elegantly describe post-pubescent boobs as “new parts of my body” just makes for a really perplexing read.] [Matthew says: As much as I like Ariel’s boobs theory, I’m pretty sure he’s only lifted her shirt up enough to reveal her midriff, which makes me wonder 1) if they’re so astonished at what’s there, their brains are going to straight up explode in the chapters to come, and 2) why all three of us are analyzing this passage so much.]
He runs his hand over my hips and my belly button.
Are those parts of her body new, too? Was she just a head before she met him?
Even though her legs are probably also a new part of her body, she and Ethan manage to head back to their hotel room uneventfully, and Prenna uses Ethan’s laptop while he looks through “near-future newspapers.” I’m guessing she brought newspapers from the future, but I have to wonder how it’s okay for Ethan to read them. This would be a great moment for that fabric of time rule that doesn’t exist. [Matthew says: Wait, they’ve only come from the near future? Wouldn’t all the newspapers basically just say “HOLY SHIT WE INVENTED TIME TRAVEL HOLY FUCKING SHIT”?]
Because Ethan’s computer is logged on to his Facebook page, I notice the hundreds of friends he has. And I can’t help thinking, What does he want with me? (It’s your body, Prenna. New belly button and all.) Why would he leave that to go on this mind-warping odyssey?
I don’t like how Brashares has chosen to use “hundreds of Facebook friends” to express how Ethan is content and happy with his present life. First of all, plenty of research has suggested that excessive social networking can actually be detrimental to real-life relationships. On a literary level, however, I actually find this reference awkward. Maybe I’ve read too much of this blog (is that possible?), and any vaguely cultural reference makes me cringe as if the Casts wrote it, but it seems weird that Prenna notices his Facebook friends. She’s talking about nerve endings and ribs as if she’s never had them before, but she can easily gauge his happiness level from a brief glance at his Facebook page? I’m not buying it.
[Ariel says: It’s so true! Pop culture references have to be done so so carefully. I so wouldn’t mind a sentence in a book that was like, “I went home, checked Facebook, and and ate a slice of pizza.” That just sounds normal and casual and fine. But in this it not only reads as a completely forced reference, it also is supposed to somehow logically lead to the conclusion that this guy is super popular and a life of adventure would be less appealing than having tons of facebook friends. She’s from the FUTURE. She should know better!”] [Matthew says: Also, how far in the future? I get that Facebook is sort of an institution now, so to be fair it’s not as bad and immediately dated a reference as, like, “hundreds of Xanga friends” would have been, but this definitely limits the amount of future I’m going to believe here.]
Either way, though, she and Ethan have a conversation about all of the events that he’s missing to go on this “mind-warping odyssey” with her, and then this happens:
He reaches and takes my bare foot in his hand.
What? Can we see that again, please?
He reaches and takes my bare foot in his hand.
I have no explanations for this scenario. In fact, following this sentence is a collection of disjointed and sappy dialogue in which Ethan and Prenna establish that Ethan wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here, holding her bare foot in his hand, but I can’t even stomach including it in this post. I’m too distressed. [Ariel says: It seems like this would also be the appropriate point at which to notice the nerves in your feet, but no. That happened earlier for some reason.]
Ethan rolls on top of me…He leans his head down to mine and kisses me long and deeply. I want it so much, it scares me. I push him off. I sit up.
OH MY GOSH IT’S JUST LIKE TRAVIS AND ABBY. Except maybe Prenna has a point, because she brings up that pesky “no love” rule. Ethan suggests that the rule might be a lie, [Matthew says: What.] and they have a conversation for which I don’t have enough background information. I can deduce that the people who gave Prenna her rules have lied in the past about rules. [Matthew says: Why would that be the first thing he has to say about this arrangement. What.] It’s really not important, though, because the excerpt is drawing to a close and we get these beautiful and dramatic lines from Ethan:
“Listen, Prenna. Do you know how long I’ve loved you?”
I like to imagine that there have only been around 5 pages in the book before this excerpt starts. Mainly because that would be accurate teen fiction.
“If I could make love to you right now, I wouldn’t mind if I died.”
BUT DON’T WORRY, they don’t test that statement. Maybe next month? [Ariel says: I just really need to understand in what way this was a Red Hot Read.] [Matthew says: Cosmo‘s really going for the foot fetishists from the near future this month?]