One would think that, having grown up watching Back to the Future (along with Star Wars and Indiana Jones) repetitively, I'd be tired of time travel books by now. Oh, no. It's exactly the opposite. Yet I am a petulant reader, as you well know. I want lots of books but I want them to be engaging and well-written. Sometimes I think that in a publisher's eagerness to get a book to market, much of the fine-tuning simply doesn't occur. Thankfully, Future Shock is a lean, mean, time-traveling machine that you won't want to put down.
Future Shock doesn't pretend to be an ultra-scientific treatment of time travel. It's entertainment, and wow, does it entertain! It's a good intro to time traveling for teens who haven't read much about it before, and I'd follow up with a book that goes into more detail on string theory, brane theory, or multiverses. Timeline is still one of my favorite Michael Crichton books. But you need to understand going into this that we're not going to be having in-depth discussions of quantum theory or even really caring that much about the grandfather paradox. This is Fun.
Elena Martinez needs a job. But employers don't like her tattoos, her skin color, or her juvie record. But how is she supposed to get the money to go to college to pull herself out of the foster system without a job? Then, one just falls into her lap. It seems too good to be true--show up at Aether Corporation's offices for a one-day test and get a million dollars in return? Elena knows the risks, but then again, what does she have to lose? Her father is in prison for murder, she has no job and no future prospects. Being a lab rat for one day outweighs bouncing from shelter to shelter for the rest of her life.
Once at the facility in the desert, she meets the four other teens who will be participating in this test. Three of them--Zoe, Chris, and Trent--are foster kids like her. The fifth kid, Adam, is definitely not from the foster system. In fact, he's already got two college degrees and is a total genius--at least when it comes to science. Social abilities? Well...
As it turns out, each one of the teens has a unique skill that makes them useful to Aether for this test, because they're not doing Rorschach tests or navigating mazes. Aether is going to send them ten years into the future. Elena's eidetic memory explains why she's there, and Adam is a genius. Zoe can draw, with minute detail, everything she sees. Chris is a mechanic who can hotwire just about anything, and Trent is a survivor. And all of them have nothing to lose, except maybe Adam. What's his game, anyway?
Just before being sent into the future, Elena overhears a conversation between two Aether scientists, who hint that this group is not the first to attempt this trip, and they won't be the last. She confides in Adam, but neither one of them can think of anything to do or say that will stop the trip and still keep them safe. So they go.
Thirty years into the future. Right from the start, everything goes wrong. The Aether building is deserted, not filled with scientists waiting for these visitors from the future, as the doctors promised. The time frame is wrong, the teens' money doesn't work, and four out of five of them are not in the national registry. They're dead. Killed the night they return from the future ... by Elena.
Elena knows she would never kill these people, but she's afraid. She has a temper, like her father. She can fight and she can hurt people--badly. And what do you say when you're trapped in the future with other people you're going to kill in the past? "Hey, sorry, but I think I'm going to kill you guys? Well, all except Adam."
The novel just takes off from there, with five teens on a mission to change their futures in the past by altering the future. It's wild and fun and makes you stop and think. Are we living out lives that have a fixed path and endpoint? No matter what we do or what we change, will the future still turn out a certain way? Or can we change our futures? Can we change the past? The time-loop stuff in here, while not exceedingly complex, still provides a great mystery. Who can Elena trust? Can she even trust herself?
Elena and Adam become a couple, and, surprisingly, I really liked the romance here. We see another side to Elena: her fear of opening up to people, her fear of getting too close. But can she even trust Adam? After all, in the future he works for Aether. And why is he on this trip, anyway? He's the only one who's not in the foster system. People will notice if he doesn't come back.
I was also really impressed with how fleshed-out and complex Zoe, Chris, and Trent were. I loved them and I was rooting for them to survive.
Overall, this is a fun, action-packed sci-fi lite that I think a lot of teens will love. Pair this with Jason Hough's Zero World for a weekend of space-time continuum fun!
I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.