Chances are you know Ann Brashares for her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, in which four best friends share a pair of jeans on their adventures. For her return to young adult novels, Brashares is dealing in a different sort of magic: time travel. In The Here and Now, 16-year-old Prenna and her family escape their disease-ridden future for the year 2014, where they must change the course of fate while keeping themselves hidden.
Compared to other time travel stories, the novel is unusual in that not only do the travelers come in a group, but they live in an insular community governed by paranoia, secrecy, murder, and stringent rules. Prenna’s suspicions only mount when she realizes she can’t trust the community elders and finds herself drawn instead to Ethan, who’s been her best friend for the last few years. Bookish talked with Brashares about how she kept all the time travel straight, why so many of these plots center on death, and whether there will be a sequel.
Bookish: In writing The Here and Now, did you have your Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants readers in mind?
Ann Brashares: I always have those readers in mind in some way. I feel like we have an ongoing relationship. I imagine they, like I, are hungry for new things sometimes, but they still want to connect emotionally with characters. Maybe I over-identify?
Bookish: What inspired you to write the time travelers’ community as so insular and rules-driven?
AB: I wanted to write an immigrant story. That’s the idea that really grounded it for me—Prenna’s realistic desire to fit in, to seem like a regular American kid. Hers is a pretty extreme immigration, but still, it’s not so different from how I imagine it might have felt for my Lebanese grandfather, coming from a very tradition-bound, religious, and insular community, falling in love with my American grandmother. Prenna’s community isn’t religious in any regular sense, although they do demand a blind faith in the integrity of time.
Bookish: Were Prenna and Ethan always intended to be teenage protagonists?
AB: They always were. I wanted to write about teenagers again, after not having done it for a while. It’s a pretty spectacular time in life to fall in love. Is there anything like it?
Bookish: Did you ever find yourself tripping up over the time details? How did you keep everything straight?
AB: I tripped and stumbled and fell over the time details many times. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to pick myself back up and keep moving. It is a challenge to keep straight all the possible worlds created by time travel. I loved it, but I’d be lying if I said I had an easy time with it.
Bookish: Your adult novel My Name Is Memory is also about love across time. Were there any elements you weren’t able to put into that book that you endeavored to include in The Here and Now?
AB: I thought I was simplifying things a bit with this book. One boy, one girl who stay in the same bodes the whole time. How little I knew!
Bookish: So many time travel stories hinge on a death. Why do you think that is?
AB: I guess time travel allows for a certain kind of immortality. You can be alive at times outside of your allotted lifespan. It also suggests the idea of fate: What is supposed to happen? How long is my life supposed to last and what is it supposed to mean? Fate and death tend to hold hands, I guess.
Bookish: With the book ending on such a bittersweet note, I definitely felt like it left room open for a sequel. Is that something you’re considering?
AB: I wanted to write a book that stood on it’s own, but I also wanted to leave myself the opportunity to write more. I haven’t worked on a sequel, but I’ve thought about it.
Bookish: What’s your favorite indie bookstore?
AB: I love the Corner Bookstore in Manhattan. It’s a tiny little gem of a store not too far from where I live. I find myself wanting to read every book they have. Sometimes in really big book stores I am overwhelmed by career uncertainty: Why does the world need another book? But in my heart I guess I believe the world always does.
Ann Brashares is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsseries, 3 Willows, The Last Summer (of You & Me), and My Name Is Memory. She lives in New York City with her husband and their four children. Discover more about Ann on AnnBrasharesBooks.com. Follow her on Twitter @ AnnBrashares.