I received this book for free from Book Expo America in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers on October 14th, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Magical Realism, Young Adult
Source: Book Expo America
In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last--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.
A.S. King is one of those BIG NAME YA authors who everyone seems to love, so when I got the opportunity to pick up a copy of Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future at BEA, you bet your ass I was excited. I hadn’t read anything by her before – but I definitely wanted to – and with the future/timey-wimey aspect, I thought this was almost sure to be a hit. But this book was WEIRD, guys. I just. I don’t even know.
I will say that what immediately struck me is that King’s writing is definitely beautiful. The more I read YA, the more I’m able to tell the difference between a debut author and a seasoned novelist. King really delves into the voice of her characters and describes everything with a ton of finesse. I thought of the writing styles of John Green and Libba Bray – definitely talented, but, like John Green, sometimes a bit over the top. While I appreciated the overall style, I could tell that in Glory O’Brien, King was attempting to reach a level of depth that approaches literary fiction and that’s… not my thing. Some of the themes and messages that she was trying to bring across were just too subtle for me and left me scratching my head.
Glory O’Brien is a weird story to begin with though. And not in a bad way. Just in a… strange way. Glory and her friend Ellie decide to drink the dust remains of a mummified/petrified bat, and this triggers them to see the past and future generations whenever they look at someone. I was so intrigued by what Glory saw. Her visions of the future tell the tale of a frightening second Civil War, triggered by anti-feminist douchebags in power. There is quite a strong feminist theme in the book, which I definitely appreciated. What Glory sees seems outrageous for us to imagine for our society today, but with recent shifts in the U.S. government and some of the troubling opinions that seem to gain standing, it isn’t too far outside of the realm of possibility. It’s a cautionary tale, I suppose, and definitely one that kept me reading.
Glory definitely has a unique voice. She’s kind of a loner and almost prides herself on not having any friends. She does have Ellie, but she frequently (non-stop) complains about her. And that really put me off. I mean, I have serious trust issues, but the way that Glory makes Ellie out to be the most self-absorbed person on the planet seems completely unfair, and it made me dislike her quite a bit. Ellie also has a pretty shitty upbringing, being raised on a hippie commune, and she doesn’t really have friends either – so of course she relies on Glory to escape that world every now and again. If anything, I felt majorly sympathetic for Ellie. But Glory goes around dissing her non-stop, talking about how she’s plotting to cut ties with her, and then slut shaming her for having sex with her boyfriend. Even though he’s a shitty guy, they’d been dating for a while, and she had sex with just him. Glory slut shames her, but then comments on her slut shaming of her, recognizes it’s unfair, but then does it again. I honestly do not understand Glory at all. A lot of her other narrations made her sound almost autistic, but nothing is done to explain any of that. I mean, obviously, her mother having committed suicide makes her a bit… warped. But it never really seemed to connect the dots of her weird behavior.
There are many different story elements in Glory O’Brien: her visions of the future, coming to terms with her mother’s suicide, her rocky friendship with Ellie, her family’s history with Jasmine, her perceptions of the world, and her plans for her own immediate future. But I felt like those loose elements lacked a certain cohesion. I had difficulty with the grief stuff about her mother, as I always do, because grief stories aren’t my thing, but the visions of the future were cool. But it was magical realism for the sake of magical realism – Glory doesn’t actively take steps to stop the horrifying future that she sees. It’s not an exciting story. It’s a thoughtful story. And while it’s not bad, it just didn’t resonate with me.