Life is complicated and messy. We are full of contradictions and not a whole lot makes sense. Often in the process of untangling the mess we’ve been handed by past generations we tie our own knots to distract future generations. It’s a far from perfect system but we’ve been muddling along for a while now. What if you could see not just the ruination we’ve been left but the ruination we leave? The big picture consequences of our actions? What if you could see all this as you were going through the major life transition of graduating high school, growing up, growing out of friendships, and dealing with depression? That’s Glory O’Brian’s History of the Future by A.S. King in one slightly strange strange petrified bat filled nutshell. I’m not going to say it’s not a little strange, but suspend disbelief long enough to absorb the book a bit, because it’s so worth it.
There’s a lot going on in this book but looking back on it the easiest way to think about it is to split it into to two categories. One in which our narrator, Glory, is dealing with real life stuff: Graduating, figuring out what she wants to do with the rest of her life, dealing with her mother’s suicide and her father’s reaction to it, deciding who she should be friends with, all the fun almost a grownup stuff. The other category is of the slightly weird variety. Glory and her friend Ellie end up drinking petrified bat remains mixed in with their beer which causes them to see flashes of peoples futures when they look at them. Yep, that sentence was real and not a mistake. It’s strange but it gives the story a fuller perspective. Glory is at a huge transition point in her life. She has decisions to make that could determine her entire future, between facing these decisions, or, as she does, actively ignoring the fact that she needs to make them, and seeing the future not just of individuals, but of their grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren she starts form a big picture image of the future.
What she sees is not pretty. A future in which sexism, essentially wins and brings out entire society to its knees. What’s very interesting about this is that the book has been labeled a feminist read. Now, I definitely agree with that, the glimpses of the future certainly show the negative chain of events that happens if we let sexism win. These glimpses are combined with us gradually learning that Glory’s father and, by his example, Glory are feminists. This has largely shaped how Glory views the world. We hear how he commented on unrealistic portrayals of women in the media and taught Glory to not let that image shape how she sees herself and behaves. This made me do all sorts of summersaulting, cheering, and in my head there was even confetti. While these were all great feminist messages they were printed side by side with a toxic female friendship in which Glory inwardly slut shames her slightly manipulative and selfish friend. This was slightly off putting for a hot second, then I realized that this is how we act.
No one is perfect and navigating the maze that is our society and sexism can be difficult. Regardless of how well we’re brought up to ignore the influence of the media, prejudices seep in. It can sometimes seem contradictory that Glory thinks less of her friend because she had sex but if you truly follow her train of thought, she’s jealous. It’s that simple. She’s young and confused and sees her close friend having an experience that she hasn’t gotten to yet. Is slut shaming the best way to handle it? No, of course not. Sure it seems to contradict the generally feminist theme of the book, but Glory is at a contradictory age. She understands the values that she’s been taught and throughout the book we see her slowly starting to grow her own moral compass. Hopefully part of that will be understanding that slut shaming is not ok.
I know I’m sounding like a broken record at this point but the book was weird, it truly was, but it’s worth the read. The feminist message could be considered a little too in your face but it’s muddled with Glory’s confusion about how to act and the fact that no human is perfect. It’s a story that portrays how messy life is and how it always will be. The themes are numerous, the feels hit hard, and the characters are complex and interesting. This is an especially good read if you like futuristic fiction and stories of teenagers in high school. It’s a well written combination of the two.