Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!
Synopsis: Elena Martinez is a foster child who is aging out of the system in just a few months. She’s seen what happens to kids in her situation, without direction, support, or funds, they end up on the street, perpetuating the cycle of bad decisions and parent-less kids. Determined that her life is going to go a different direction, beginning with college, Elena’s job hunting like mad. To her advantage: her eidetic memory, excellent grades, and ability to focus and work hard. Against her, her sleeve of tattoos and her Latina-ness, in the face of largely white and apparently prejudiced potential bosses. Interview after interview, and so far, Elena’s out of luck. She can’t afford to be out of luck, so when a stranger comes to her foster home from the Aether Corporation, a high-profile tech firm in the city, and offers her the chance to make a ridiculous amount of money just to “participate in a short research project,” she knows it’s too good to be true – but she signs on anyway. The money will pay for college – she’s got to take a chance.
The research project turns out to be a chance to travel to the future for twenty-four hours – and simply to pick up information. Easy enough, except that Elena’s not the only one chosen, and some of the rest of the team are real pieces of work — a couple of aggressive, hardcore punks like she’s run a group homes before, a quiet, punky girl who looks like she might be afraid of her own shadow, and a kid who looks like he got lost on the way to a GQ shoot. What’s weird is that every single kid but one on the team, except for Mr. GQ is… a foster kid. Is that because they’re expendable? And, why are there only kids, anyway? What happens if something goes really wrong in the future? How are they supposed to cope? And, why does Aether Corporation make such a big point of reminding them not to check out their own futures? Could it really give them some kind of a stroke?
With twenty-four hours on the clock and a strong desire to secure her future – and get back to her past in one piece – Elena is watching everything, and everyone. And, when the inevitable happens, all she can do is throw herself behind the belief that the present is still waiting to happen — and gamble everything that somehow they can change the future.
Observations: This novel is grippy! Though some readers may find the pacing uneven, the gradual – and despairing – beginning of the novel and then the faster, creepier quicker pacing works for me. The characterization is quick and dirty at first, then deepens, and the reader gets a chance to know the protagonist a little, and she held my attention to a surprising degree. I really like that Elena Martinez is a GATE kid – and she’s Latina. Her home situation is bad, she has tattoos and a violent history, but hey: she’s in the gifted program at school and can make the grades. (Some of the other members are the team skewed, for me, a little closer to type than character – The Thug, the follower, the hipster – but the characterization does deepen somewhat.) The author pegs the ragged edges of the main character immediately. You see that Elena gets her back up easily, but you also see that she has a big, soft heart beneath all of the fronting. Readers will empathize with her tenuous situation – knowing that once she’s eighteen, she’s out the door of her overcrowded foster home is a very real, relatable fear, and author does her justice here.
The mystery aspect of the novel, as Elena tries to unravel a pretty basic “Whodunnit” is surprisingly frustrating – but not in a negative way, but in a way that is essentially realistic. Elena runs out of clues, out of neat tricks, and literally out of time, which means that the team has to cobble together a kind of “um, maybe this’ll work” scenario, then pop back into their timestream. I was really surprised by that – the frayed, no-consensus, disorganized retreat is really atypical to a mystery narrative. And yet, it was very realistic that Elena had to just… live her life, to find out what really happened. That she wasn’t able to control everything was also terribly realistic.
Conclusion: An intriguing beginning for apparently a series, this mostly quick-paced mystery novel has a touch of romance, some genially mad scientists, those driverless cars we’re just now seeing (no flying ones, however) and a lot of promise that the future is much, much more disturbing and cooler than we may have previously imagined.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. And, after April 1, you can find FUTURE SHOCK by Elizabeth Briggs at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!