Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future
by A.S. King
Original Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Obtained Via: gifted
Publisher: Little, Brown
View at the Traffic light:
WOULD YOU TRY TO CHANGE THE WORLD
IF YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD NO FUTURE?
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 everything in her power to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.
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.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future was oddly political. Based on the summary, I assumed there would be some of that, but I wasn’t prepared for just how political the book ended up being. It felt very much like a forced message to me, which makes it difficult to evaluate Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future as a story, but I’ll try.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future starts with Glory graduating high school and unsure of what she’s doing next. She’s not going to college(at least not right away), and she’s still dealing with her mother’s suicide, which made both Glory and her dad put their entire future on hold. During hanging out with her only friend, Glory ends up drinking petrified bat ashes(it’s strange, but part of reading a book such as Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future is just going along with the weirder elements), and finds she can see the future, but only in glimpses. As she begins to piece together these glimpses, she realizes what horrors the future might hold.
Glory is a difficult protagonists, because one of her defining traits is her passivity. She doesn’t know what to do after she graduates high school, she only has a friend based on convenience, and her only real passion for anything is for photography–a passion she shares with her deceased mom. The photography takes up a lot of the book–there’s several scenes in a dark room, several passages about what Glory sees when she looks through a camera. On the whole, while I appreciate this passive character having an interest in something, the technical bits of photography got boring quickly. I understood why it was added–Glory seeing her world through the flash of a camera and still moments, and how that plays into the fact she sees the future in glimpses–but the way it was done didn’t keep me engaged.
That being said, I LOVED the glimpses into the future. After glimpsing into the future via several people, Glory begins to piece together the story–or the history of the future, as it were. In the future, it turns out the Fair Pay Act–which is suppose to make it illegal to pay women and men different wages for the same work–has a loophole that some shady politicians exploit. The end result is a terrifying future in which women systemically begin to have any rights stripped away.
I’m of two minds on this. Even though the future that Glory sees seems unrealistic, it’s not impossible. It would have been easier for King to just come up with some sort of whole new system, like a government being overthrown, but instead she uses the political systems and the government that’s currently in place. It makes the future seem all that much more terrifying and also shows how systems humans often think of as infallible are used by incredibly fallible humans. Considering the fact this new power of Glory’s is coming around because she drank bat ashes, there’s something incredibly grounding about this approach.
On the other hand, this approach feels extremely message-driven. And it’s not a message I disagree with, by any means(I’m all for literature exploring feminist issues), but I prefer some nuance in my books. Life is often messy and complicated and things often have multiple causes. The future in Glory’s visions seems so. . . straightforward, albeit in a really awful way. It jumps around screaming “look at me! think about these issues!” instead of letting them quietly hang in the back of your mind weeks after finishing the book.
To further complicate my feelings on this matter, the end result of Glory’s vision is suppose to be a feminist and empowering message, but it clashes with the high amount of slut-shaming in this book. Now, real people often do slut-shame others, so I’m not always bothered by it in books when it’s portrayed realistically. I had a HUGE problem with it in Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, though. Not only is the future that Glory sees surrounded by women having their rights taken from them, but it’s pointed out in the book that Glory was raised by a feminist father. . . and yet she constantly slut-shames her best friend(well, her friend of convenience), Ellie. It felt out of place for Glory to do this based upon how she was raised plus the visions of the future she saw, and she never really learned from it.
That being said, for the most part I actually did somewhat enjoy Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. It was thought-provoking, if not exactly subtle. It was a fresh take on genres like Dystopia–having a main character who gains the ability to see the future and how the world comes to be that way–which kept me reading the entire time. There’s also something about King’s writing that makes her books easy to slip into, even when I find the subject matter less than fascinating(like the emphasis on photography). In the end, I just feel so conflicted about this book. There were enjoyable aspects, but then there were issues that counteracted those enjoyable parts. I think Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future will be worth it to some readers, but it’s not as groundbreaking as I had hoped.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future was interesting and kept me reading, but I disliked how preachy the message felt at times. With some more nuance and subtely, it could have been great. As it is, the book is thought provoking, but only in passing. 3/5 cupcakes.