From the brilliantly bizarre mind of A.S. King comes a haunting look at a bleak future—not only for teenager Glory O’Brien, but for all women.
Glory is having a rough senior year. High school graduation is nigh and, unlike her self-assured, college-bound peers, she’s uncertain about what’s next. Actually, she wonders if there will even be a next, because the sad legacy of her mother’s suicide 13 years ago still weighs so heavily upon her.
Then there’s her longtime friend Ellie, whose frenemy tendencies have been tolerable—but lately, Glory’s been thinking their relationship is no longer worthwhile.
Even more ominous are the visions Glory and Ellie begin having after a strange, fateful night. After ingesting the remains of a dead bat, the girls start to receive “transmissions” from other people’s past or future across infinite generations. Glory’s visions are harbingers of a second Civil War that brings with it violence, misogyny, boundless danger and sorrow.
So, yeah . . . the teen protagonist of Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future has a lot going on. King tells Glory’s complicated story with skill and grace, via her trademark method of melding reality with the otherworldly—a sort of matter-of-fact magical realism. For example, when the transmissions begin, the characters are stunned and confused, but accepting. Their jarring visual interludes are woven right into the narrative. (No reason to slow down for marveling and wondering; there’s a story to be told!)
That mix of magic and mundane, intellectual and fantastical, has long worked for King. Her first novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs, was a 2009 ALA Best Book for Young Adults; Please Ignore Vera Dietz was a 2011 Printz Honor book; and Ask the Passengers won the 2013 L.A. Times Book Prize and was a Lambda Award finalist.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future is King’s sixth YA novel, and it’s a story that’s close to her not-one-for-following-the-traditional-life-path heart. “We put so much pressure on 16-year-olds—What do you want to do? Where do you want to go?” King says. “That goes with Glory, who feels like she’s not allowed to be lost anymore.”
The author can relate: “High school wasn’t for me. Traditional college was also not for me. Art school I excelled at, and that was great.” Also, the Pennsylvania native and her Irish husband lived for a decade in Tipperary, Ireland, renovating a decrepit farmhouse, living self-sufficiently and raising chickens. She also taught adult literacy and wrote, wrote, wrote.
“When we moved back [to Pennsylvania in 2005], I had seven or eight novels under my belt,” King says. “I didn’t know anything about publishing, which was fine. It meant I got to grow as a writer without caring about getting published.”
Her growth as a writer began long before, though. King kept journals as a child, and in college at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, where she studied photography and archival printing, “I secretly wrote little essays about the pictures I took. . . . No one ever saw them. I was always a closet writer.”
Just as King emerged from her writerly cocoon (though she still favors “an office where I can close the door and do whatever I want with my brain”), Glory’s growing awareness—of her parents’ past, her own talents, the near and far future—is a transformation that begins in her late mother’s closet-like darkroom, where she sifts through photos, journals and other flotsam and jetsam of a creative, troubled mind.
Glory’s nerve grows, too, and she faces the transmissions head-on by creating a History of the Future that warns others about the coming war. The catalyst? A loophole in the future Fair Pay Act: If states make it illegal for women to work, they can forgo equal pay. The subsequent Family Protection Act sparks ever-worsening misogyny. Women and girls suffer immensely, and citizens start fighting back.
While extreme, it’s a future that doesn’t sound entirely preposterous, with current social media campaigns of young women proclaiming “We don’t need feminism” and the proliferation of so-called men’s rights groups. King says, “Being on the farm and out of touch for so long in Ireland, I wasn’t here [in the U.S.] for the whole reversal of what a feminist was. I was confused to come back and hear the word being used for other things . . . like someone changed the word while I was gone.”
She goes on, “It’s also just the culture: I have two girls, and it’s hard to navigate anything from Internet to TV to ads without constantly seeing women being objectified.”
Thanks to her parents, King grew up in a household where gender stereotypes were not promoted nor enforced. “Chores had to get done, so I might be the one up in a tree sawing off a mimosa limb, and I collected the trash . . . whereas in a lot of houses those were only boys’ jobs. That was strange to me, because the only boy around was my dad, and he had other stuff to do.”
Young people must be fearless in standing up for themselves, whether against a frenemy or a discriminatory social norm.
Those values are integral to Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, as is the notion that asking questions, while sometimes scary, is worthwhile. Young people must be fearless in standing up for themselves, whether against a frenemy or a discriminatory social norm. “The bottom line is, equal rights are important,” King says. “I don’t think it’s politics, I just think everybody’s equal.”
She adds, “When it comes to feminism, there’s still a simple definition. . . . I’ll look in my old high school dictionary. . . . ‘The advocacy of political, social and economic equivalency of men and women.’ I don’t see a problem with that, and I don’t see why anyone else would.”
Put simply, she says with a laugh, “The world is full of assholes. What are you doing to make sure you’re not one of them? In a way, that’s what every book [I’ve written] is about. It’s a call to arms!”