18 May 2015

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by AS King

These days, it seems like "feminism" is a dangerous word, one that'll inspire raging passions of all kinds, from all kinds of idealogical perspectives.

GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE is all about feminism—and yet, it's totally not. While a cynical assessment could call it some sort of battle cry, and an overzealous one could call it a manifesto, in truth, it is nothing so much as an honest examination of how one girl interacts with the world around her—her questions about her own identity as a woman, and as a woman who interacts with other women, included.

When Glory O'Brien and her maybe-best-friend Ellie drink the desiccated remains of a bat, they suddenly start seeing visions. Wherever Glory looks, she sees people's pasts and futures laid out for generations in either direction. And what she sees in the future is alarming: a world where, in just a few generations, a new civil war splits America. Glory sees the pieces fall like dominoes: the passage of a fair pay act (legally requiring equal pay for men and women), the subsequent illegalization of women working in some states, kidnappings and rapes and pillaging and murder.

It's chilling.

And all the while, Glory is stuck in her own past, unable to see a future past high school. Her mother killed herself when Glory was four, and Glory doesn't know how to get past that. Neither does her father. Glory looks at the world through the lens of her camera, seeing everything in the Zone system—absolute white through shades of gray to absolute black.

Glory is unable to see those shades of gray with her friend, Ellie. While Glory is a self-professed feminist—raised that way by her hippie parents—she nonetheless struggles to be an actual friend to Ellie. She veers wildly from trying to help Ellie escape from her parents' hippie commune and build a life she wants, to slut-shaming Ellie when she makes her own choices with her body and her sexuality, and the constant back and forth is, I think, a true and all too human look at the contradictions we all face when we don't live up to our own convictions.

GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE was the first book I've read by A.S. King. It will not be the last.