May 22, 2016
Blonde. Blue eyes. Gorgeous hair. Clear skin. Thin. Today, too many girls and women experience pressure from society to conform to this "ideal" body type, especially that of possessing a smaller waist. In a book unique to the young Young Adult genre, often stuffed with cliche romances, dystopian societies, vampires and werewolves, or a combination of the three, Jen Larsen's Future Perfect breaks common literary themes in more ways than one.
Seventeen year old Ashley Marie Perkins is, by most definitions, very successful. Not only is she a talented volley ball player, the valedictorian of her, highly unorthodox, high school and aspiring Harvard attendee, but her personality is lovable and identifiable. She loves dogs, as is evident from the many in her house, spending time with her boyfriend and close friends, who are beautiful characters in their own rights and generally just being a teen age girl. Yet according to her finicky grandmother, with claims that she is being held back in life, all of this is overshadowed by one trait, which Ashley couldn't care less about. Ashely Marie Perkins is fat.
When she was thirteen Ashley received a (one of many to come) birthday letter from her grandmother, offering a considerable reward for losing weight. As the years progressed, Ashley continued to ignore these offers, choosing to remain as happy with her body as she had always been, until her seventeenth birthday, when her grandmother promises to pay her way through Harvard, Ashley's dream college, in exchange for her undergoing weight loss surgery. Though this prospect provides Ashley with a near constant worry throughout the story, she finds time to move on with her life, occasionally pondering the difficult choice she must eventually make, but refusing to let it overwhelm her. Adventures to the slums of San Francisco, the cold and snowy Boston, and her countless other experiences all supplement the months Ashley must live with this agonizing dilemma.
Eventually the situation comes to a head and a choice must be made, and however it leaves the reader feeling, Ashely's decision: to go through with surgery and have her Harvard tuition paid, or to forsake tuition money yet keep the body she loves and feels comfortable in, provides a meaningful conclusion to the book.
Ashley's friends and family, all complex, well-developed characters, provide intriguing interactions and plot additions, with many contributing to a theme of not letting one's body limit personality and self expression. One of Ashley's two closest friends is a fun-loving, intelligent girl, who remains strong and brave, despite her having been born into the male sex, and parents that refuse to forget it. Her other friend, like Ashley, has darker skin, and as a minority must combat racial stereotypes and other disparities arising from her excess melatonin.
The character of Ashley's boyfriend, while the perfect partner at first glance, offers the reader insight into what is truly important in a relationship. Ashley's dad and brothers, while possessing little thematic value, are nevertheless highly interesting people, who provide Ashely with love and support alongside her friends and boyfriend.
One of the most complex characters of all is Ashley's grandmother. Though not a warm, snuggly type, it is obvious that she loves Ashley and her son and grandsons, and wants the best for them all. Unfortunately, this leads her to be highly critical, judgmental, and borderline cruel when it comes to influencing their lives, especially Ashely's. She is not entirely cold-hearted, however, as she cares very much for the struggles of Ashley's friends.
While the aforementioned persons are most integral to the plot, let it be known that the book is filled with countless other colorful, interesting, funny, infuriating and beautifully written characters! Without all of Future Perfect's characters and their rich personalities, the important message that outside appearance does not influence people's personalities, among many other themes, would be nowhere near as strong.
The characters are my favorite aspect of the story, due to the themes they convey and their colorful renditions and importance to the plot. Yet there is quite a bit more to Future Perfect than the people. Though Larsen's writing style tends to conform with that of most Young Adult authors, it is my opinion that a unique style is not needed in order to tell this story, which, to me, is first and foremost a tale highlighting a need for social reform, most importantly in society's expectation that women be thin and "beautiful,"or the negative outlook on the LGBT community. As a woman struggling with body image and a member of the LGBT community myself, this book naturally holds a very near and dear spot in my heart, and I suspect that those who identify similarly would find this to be a very relatable and welcome read. Of course, readers who can't relate with Ashley or any of the other characters will come away with a greater awareness of what it is like to be a minority of any kind, and hopefully a better capacity to empathize with their struggle.
Like all literary works, this book is not "perfect" in every way, however. As much as I love and appreciate the social message this story holds, at times it can feel slightly forced. For instance, there are occasional details that are meant to highlight social issues or draw attention to minority groups in passing. I love how Larsen "sneaks in" mentions of same-sex couples as if she were describing heterosexual couples, since they really are no different. I also love how she casually mentions racial issues that need to be resolved. Even so, while I think that it is important to show how minority groups are no different from majority groups, or that racism is still very much alive in America, the way in which they are written suggests that these lines were included specifically for the purpose of social commentary, and they have very little bearing on the plot. I think that if all social commentary had been included as part of the main story and plot, it would have been more effective.
Despite its few flaws, though, overall this book is fantastic! Five out of five stars. Future Perfect provides not only an interesting, unique story with well rounded and downright cool characters, but it brings to light many important issues facing society today, including body shaming, sexism, homophobia/transphobia, and racism. While occasionally Larsen's highlight of these issues takes away from the story itself, I believe that their inclusion is more important than a smooth or uninterrupted read. Thought provoking stories such as this one are becoming more and more important, especially considering society's emerging indifference to a need for change. I strongly believe that this book will leave readers with something to ponder for years to come!