Review: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

I would've bought this book just for the cover model.
A.S. King is widely acclaimed for her unique, quietly searing YA magical realism, and Glory O'Brien's History of the Future is a fine addition to her canon. The novel details the life of high school graduate Glory O'Brien. After drinking a dead bat, Glory and her friend Ellie gain the ability to see people's pasts and futures upon looking at them. This peculiar capability brings startling revelations about the people in Glory's life that violently coalesce into a chilling narrative of the world's future. Glory must navigate this vision while struggling with her deteriorating friendship with Ellie, her mother's suicide, post-graduation worries, and deep-rooted family issues.

This book could have easily been weepy and sentimental, but King's unflinching examination of daily life and human nature turns Glory O'Brien's History of the Future into an elegant and haunting modern bildungsroman. King kept me hooked throughout the story. Glory's visions of the future, which she records for posterity, detail a frighteningly plausible dystopia involving civil war, legal loopholes, and kidnapped women. The visions slowly align with Glory's own experiences to lend another dimension to her story, a skilled move on King's part. The way Glory manages her mother's suicide is compelling without being cheesy or overdone. And her relationship with her friend Ellie is relatable for most. It's also funny.

The success of any self-reflective novel hinges on its protagonist. Glory is accordingly a brilliant creation: she is independent by nature rather than out of defiance, sensitive, perceptive, intelligent, and gently moral. Many teens in these sorts of coming-of-age novels are egocentric, which lends a believable but irritating flavor to the narrative; Glory manages to be self-reflective without becoming solipsistic, a balance which makes her more likable than the protagonists of many other YA novels (The Catcher in the Rye, The Carbon Diaries, Mockingjay.)

Only the ending keeps the book from a 5/5 rating. Glory receives the last of the future visions as she solves the constellation of issues surrounding her mother's suicide--and then the novel suddenly stops. A.S. King may have created the abrupt ending to parallel Glory's uncertainty about her future, but the final page's clumsiness is a letdown after Glory's ominous visions and sympathetic familial struggles. However, despite its abrupt ending, Glory O'Brien's History of the Future is another intelligent and striking success for A.S. King.


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