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Glory O'Brien's History of the Future
By A.S. King
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Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities–but not for Glory, who has no plan for what’s next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way…until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions–and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do anything to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Everybody Sees the Ants
A Sneak Peek of Ask the Passengers
A Sneak Peek of Reality Boy
A Sneak Peek of I Crawl Through It
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The origin of everything
School is the same as anything else. You do it because you're told to do it when you're little enough to listen. You continue because someone told you it was important. It's like you're a train in a tunnel. Graduation is the light at the end.
Hippie weirdo freaks
Ellie Heffner told me that the day she graduated would be the day she left her family and ran away forever. She'd been telling me that since we were fifteen years old.
"They're freaks," she said. "Hippie weirdo freaks."
I couldn't argue with her. She did live with hippie weirdo freaks.
"Will you come back and visit me, at least?" I asked.
She looked at me, disappointed. "You won't still be here then, will you?"
I had one week to go. Three more school days: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and optional Baccalaureate on Friday and then a weekend wait to graduate on Monday. I still got postcards and letters from colleges and universities in the mail every week. I still threw each of them away without opening them.
It was Sunday night and Ellie and I were sitting on the steps on my front porch facing her house, which was across the road.
"I don't know," I answered. "I have no idea where I'll be."
I couldn't tell her the truth about where I thought I'd be. I almost did a few times, weak times when I was gripped by fear. I'd almost told her everything. But Ellie was… Ellie. Ever since we were little, she'd change the rules of a game halfway through.
You don't tell your biggest secrets to someone like that, right?
Anyway. I had a week until I graduated. I had zero plans, zero options, zero friends.
But I didn't tell Ellie that either because she thought she was my best friend.
It was complicated.
It had always been complicated.
It would always be complicated.
The origin of the bat
The bat lived at Ellie's house. We saw it first on a weekend that February. She pointed at the tiny lump of fur lodged in the corner of the back porch and said, "Look. A hibernating bat."
We saw it again in March and it hadn't moved. We talked about the bat's upcoming awakening and how it would soon swoop to the surface of Ellie's pond and eat newly hatched insects and touch its tiny wingtips off the water.
But spring came and the bat didn't move. Didn't swoop. Didn't seem to be dining on any of the tasty neighborhood pond bugs. One of its elbows—if that's what bats have—stuck out a little, like it was broken or something. We talked about how it might have an injury or a birth defect.
"Like the way I can't bend this finger down all the way since I broke it," Ellie said, showing me her right-hand index finger.
Life on Ellie's commune was different. They used hammers before they could walk. They didn't have any plastic. They swung on a homemade swing with a wooden plank as a seat. They played on the frozen pond without adult supervision and had chores that involved livestock. Ellie was in charge of chickens. One time when she was seven, she broke her finger while hammering a door hinge on a chicken house back into place.
I was convinced that the bat was out of hibernation and was simply nesting there at night in the exact same place under the eaves of her back porch. If we were in any way smart, we'd have stayed until dusk that night to watch the bat leave in order to answer our curiosities about it, but we didn't. Ellie had commune chores and a secret boyfriend. I had reluctant homework and senioritis. We were happy believing the bat was fine.
When we met on Easter Monday in late April, the bat was still there, elbow pointed to the eastern horizon like it had been since winter. Ellie found a stick and poked it and then sniffed the stick.
"Doesn't stink," she said. "And there are no flies or anything."
"Don't bats have fleas?" I asked. "I heard they carry fleas and ticks and stuff."
"I think it's dead," Ellie said.
"Doesn't look dead," I said.
"Doesn't look alive, either," Ellie said.
She poked it again and it didn't move. Then she nudged the stick up into the siding where she could force the whole bat out with one slice and it fell into her mother's sprouting summer lilies. Ellie reached into the lime-green and came out with this oddity—perfectly intact, still furry, still with eyeballs, still with paper-thin wings folded like it was resting.
We leaned down and looked at it.
"It's petrified?" Ellie said.
"Probably more like mummified," I said.
She ignored my correction and placed the bat on the picnic table and went into the house and got a jar. I took a picture of the jar. I named the picture in my head. Empty Jar.
"It's so light," Ellie said, weighing the bat in her palm. "Do you want to hold it before I put it in?"
I put my hands out and she placed it in my palm and we looked at it. Even though it was dead, Ellie seemed to see it as a new stray pet that needed a mother or something. When I put it in the jar, she sealed the lid and held it up and said, "I christen thee the petrified bat! Hear ye, hear ye, the petrified bat is king!"
"Might be a queen," I said.
"Whatever," Ellie said. She inspected it through the glass. "It's alive and dead at the same time or something."
"It's the closest I've ever come to God," Ellie said.
"Amen." I was being sarcastic. Because Ellie said stuff like that sometimes and it was annoying. Because we were seventeen and this was silly, us finding a bat and acting like it was something special. This was what nine-year-olds did.
But then something serious came over me. I said, "Hold on. Let me see it." Ellie handed the jar to me and as I looked at it—a tiny lump of mummified fur—I said, "Maybe it is God."
The bat was dead but somehow it represented life because it looked alive. It was mysterious and obvious in one hollow, featherweight package.
"We'll put it in the shed," Ellie said. "My mom will never find it there because that's where we keep the cleaning supplies."
Ellie's mother didn't believe in cleaning.
My mother was dead, and I had no idea if she was ever a clean freak or what.
The ballad of Darla O'Brien
My mother wasn't conveniently dead, like in so many stories about children, whether they jarred dead bats or were attracted to beasts in woodland castles. She didn't die to help me overcome some obstacle by myself or to make me a more sympathetic character.
She haunted me—and not in some run-of-the-mill Hollywood way. There were no floating bedsheets or chains clanking in the night as I tiptoed to the bathroom to pee.
My mother, Darla O'Brien, was a photographer. She haunted the walls of our house with pictures. She was always there and never there. We could never see her, but every day, I saw her pictures. She was a great photographer, but she never became famous because we didn't live in New York City. Or that's what I've heard she said.
Getting dead didn't make her famous either.
Regardless, having a dead mother isn't convenient, especially when she died because she stuck her head in an oven and turned on the gas.
That is not convenient.
Although, I'd argue that there is some convenience in having a death machine right there in your kitchen waiting for the moment you finally get the nerve to do it. I'd argue that's more convenient than a fast-food drive-thru. You don't even have to leave your house to stick your head in the oven.
You don't even have to change out of your bathrobe.
You don't even have to take your kid to preschool where it was Letter N Day and she was ready to show off her acorn collection. You don't have to remember to do anything but breathe in and breathe out.
That's about as convenient as it gets.
What's inconvenient is: Living in a world where no one wants to talk to you about your dead mother because it makes them uncomfortable.
What's inconvenient is: Not having a mother at middle school graduation. Not having a mother when I tried to figure out how to shave under my arms. Not having a mother when I got my period. My dad was helpful; but he's a feminist, not an actual woman.
I always knew that one day, it would be inconvenient as hell not having a mother at high school graduation. The last few weeks of senior year were filled with all the girls in my homeroom talking about buying dresses and shoes and all I could think about was how small those things seemed.
I sat in homeroom thinking Shoes. Dresses. Disposable bullshit.
I sat in homeroom thinking Where am I really going, anyway?
Though my yearbook photographer duties were over because the year's book was done, I still carried my camera with me everywhere. I took candid shots of those girls talking about their dresses and shoes. I took pictures of my teachers trying to teach near-empty classrooms. I took pictures of the people who thought they were my friends, but who I'd never let all the way in.
I didn't let anyone sign my yearbook. I decided: Why fake it?
Everything tasted like radiation
Ellie hadn't been to public school with me since we finished the eighth grade, and in the four years since, she'd said, "Homeschooling is faster because there's no repeating everything all the time," about eleven trillion times to me. Maybe it was true. Maybe not. Seemed to me homeschooling was just another way to keep all those kids in the commune from seeing the real world.
I didn't like the real world, but I was glad I knew about it.
Darla O'Brien didn't like the real world either, so she stuck her head in an oven.
My dad loved the real world. He ate it up. Literally. He weighed two hundred and forty pounds now. Not a bad weight unless you were five foot four and 120 pounds when you started out.
Dad had never replaced the oven. Not even with an electric one. Our kitchen had never had an oven since Letter N Day. Just a freezer full of food that could be cooked by the microwave.
Everything tasted like radiation.
Ellie wouldn't come to my house if we were cooking because she believed microwaves gave you cancer. She never could understand why we didn't have a huge stove like they had on the commune—a stove that could pickle and blanch and reduce fruit into jam for the winter.
"It's not like that could happen twice, right?" she'd said once. By that, she meant Darla sticking her head in the oven.
I'd answered, "No. No, I guess that couldn't happen twice."
But it could. Right? There were still two people left in my house. I was one of them. Whenever I thought about what Ellie had said, my guts churned. Sometimes I got diarrhea from it. Sometimes I threw up. It wasn't as easy as it can't happen twice. Anyone who knew anything about what Darla did knew it sometimes did happen twice because it's often hereditary. But Ellie just said things without thinking. That was hereditary too.
Ellie's mother, Jasmine Blue Heffner, believed that the microwave oven was no different from an atomic bomb because it was invented by defense contractors during World War II.
I figured by the time Ellie applied to colleges, she'd either be smarter than me from learning so much faster in homeschool, or she'd be so brainwashed by Jasmine Blue that she would score badly on her SAT because she believed a microwave oven was the same as an atomic bomb.
Ellie might have defended homeschooling to me, but deep down she knew what she was missing. From the day she stopped getting on the yellow school bus with me she started complaining about the commune. It was as if school was her one real-world connection, and cutting it off made her feel like a bird in a cage.
She asked about what other girls were wearing to school. She asked about makeup. She asked about boys, TV shows, social media sites, dances, sports games.
Mostly, she asked about sex, even though we'd just turned fourteen.
"Did you have health class today?" she'd asked.
"Did you get the rubber demonstration yet?"
"Today we learned about meth," I'd said.
I told her that real sex ed wasn't until eleventh grade and she looked disappointed. "I think that's too late to learn about sex."
"Yeah. By then, we know everything already," I'd said.
We knew enough. I had the Internet at home. (Ellie did not have the Internet. Jasmine Blue believed the Internet was an atomic bomb full of porn and lies. In that order.) By fifth grade, we'd Googled it. First we Googled penis. We looked for images. That was the day we found the butter penis. A penis carved from butter—anatomically correct. We made jokes about it. What good is that if it melts? Bet it tastes better than the real thing. We wondered why anyone would sculpt a penis out of butter. But then we found penis cakes, penis candy molds and penis lollipops, and we figured adults were gross.
That's as far as it went in fifth grade. Adults are gross. Nothing more to it.
We made a promise that day. We promised to tell each other the minute we had sex. Both of us doubted in fifth grade that it would ever happen, but if it did, we swore we would tell each other and talk about it.
In middle school, before homeschooling, Ellie became an expert, as if she was preparing for the most important event of her life. She got her friends to buy her the latest women's magazines and she'd talk about orgasms and balls and how to please your man. She would sometimes give the magazines to me to keep for her. I had a box of her contraband under my bed. Mostly magazines and eye shadow. A condom that a random boy gave to her. A weekend section of the newspaper with a page of exotic dancers, with names like Leather Love, Lacey Snow, Shy-Anne, who would perform at the local lap dancing bars. I looked through the magazines sometimes, too. In front of Ellie I pretended I wasn't interested. But I was.
In front of everyone else, I pretended I didn't care about all the stuff girls start to care about in middle school—the right clothes, shoes, mascara, hair products, sex—but I did. I was interested in the why. Why? Why do we care so much about this?
I wasn't sure why I cared about not caring. Or why I didn't care about not caring.
I figured it had something to do with what everyone else was avoiding talking about, which was Darla. Maybe had Darla still been around, she'd have given me a direction. Or something.
Jasmine Blue's homeschool sex education was contained in a simple mantra. If you do it too early, you'll regret it. I watched as each mention made Ellie more curious and more rebellious and more determined to have sex just because she wanted to test Jasmine's theory.
"What do you think it's like?" she would ask me, even though she knew it made me uncomfortable to talk about it. I think she figured since she was fourteen and curious, so was I.
"I don't know," I'd say. "I don't really care."
"You don't care? Really? Come on. You care."
I didn't care.
"What about that kid on the bus you used to crush on? Didn't you ever think about doing it with him?" she asked.
"Don't you remember? He was such a perv."
She picked at a fingernail that was bothering her. "What'd he do again?"
"The porn guy."
"Ohhh. Yeah. Him," she said. "So, who do you like now?"
I never told her that after Markus Glenn showed me those pictures on his computer in seventh grade, he asked me to touch him there where his shorts were sticking up like a tipi. When I wouldn't touch it and I told him I was going home, he said, "You're never going to be a real woman acting like that, you know! Anyway, you're flat as a board!"
I didn't tell her that from that moment forward, I never even wanted breasts because then kids like Markus Glenn would look at them. I didn't tell her that from that moment on, I sometimes didn't know what a woman was really supposed to look like.
"You liked one kid in your whole life? I don't buy it."
"I told you. I don't care," I'd said.
I picked up my camera and held it at arm's length and took a picture of myself not caring. I called it: Glory Doesn't Care.
The Zone System
Everyone in school on those last days posed. Before then, I'd catch them at their desks working, or in the computer lab researching, or in the library reading. They never looked up. On Monday, three days of school left, they made funny faces. On Tuesday, they hugged a lot. The last day of school for seniors, the Wednesday before graduation, everyone looked right into my camera and smiled or grabbed friends and acted as if they would never see each other again—as if they were never going to have a class reunion, as if we were all going to die on graduation day. You could see the fear in their faces, masked by joy, but it was there. I snapped picture after picture even though I didn't plan on sharing any of them.
"Us! Us!" a group of jazz band girls said. Snap.
"Can you take a picture of us, too?" nearby vo-tech guys said. Snap.
"Hey, Glory! Take a picture of us, willya?" Football cheerleaders draped all over each other. Snap.
On the way to lunch for the very last time, there were three girls who never liked me because of the FEMINISM IS THE RADICAL NOTION THAT WOMEN ARE PEOPLE bumper sticker on my [dad's] car, one of whom claimed this made me a dyke back in eleventh grade. "Last day at lunch! Come on. Take a shot of us buying our last crappy high school food."
But they didn't know that I focused on the chicken nuggets, soggy fries and lump of macaroni salad on their plates instead of their clueless faces.
It would seem from this that I was popular, and with my camera, I was. My camera kept me safe. Kept me in good standing with people who wanted a picture of themselves. Kept me behind the camera rather than in front of it. I even skipped the one group picture I should have been in for yearbook—which was the yearbook club picture. I didn't get regular senior pictures taken either. Instead, I submitted a self-portrait with my eyes closed. I had to fight to get them to include it. Luckily, the only pull I had in school was with the yearbook advisor.
The picture looked like me, dead.
I was interested in death the way Ellie was interested in sex. The less adults talked to us about things, the more we wanted to know, I guess.
Anyway, I knew that one day the picture would be accurate, because everyone dies.
I got my first camera from my mother for my fourth birthday. I wasn't allowed to use it, but it was mine… for the future, which, looking back, is a bizarre idea when one's mother doesn't make it to one's fifth birthday. But anyway. It was a very simple Leica M5 in a leather case. Not a digital camera. Darla O'Brien believed in film. She believed in emulsion and silver halide. She believed in something called the Zone System, which was developed by two photographers named Ansel Adams and Fred Archer around 1940.
The Zone System divided the tones in a black-and-white photograph into eleven zones between maximum black and maximum white. The challenge was to make an image that represented all eleven zones. Maximum white was 10. Maximum black was 0. Max white was blown out. Max black was nothingness.
Max black was my code for dead. "Max Black" would be what I secretly called the petrified bat because I was picky about saying something was what it wasn't. The bat was not petrified. Minerals couldn't have replaced its cells. It was just dead. Zone 0. Max black.
My one regret was that I never photographed the bat before we drank it. It would have made such a great image—so many zones represented, standing at attention, carving themselves into the emulsion. It would have represented me. Glory O'Brien, light as a feather. Glory O'Brien, jarred. Glory O'Brien, faking everyone out looking alive when really I was disintegrating. Glory O'Brien, wings folded, not flying.
I'd taken a picture of the jar, of the picnic table, of Ellie staring into the bat's mummified eyes, but I never took a shot of the bat itself. Maybe this meant something. Maybe it didn't. You choose.
Maybe I was avoiding death at the same time as I was obsessed with it.
Humans are weird, right? We're walking contradictions. We are zone 10 and zone 0 at the same time. We aren't really sure.
Or, at least, I wasn't. But that was a secret.
I loved the challenge of the Zone System, but I had never tried it. Darla's darkroom was off-limits. It was an acrid-smelling shrine in the basement where her secrets lived. And the more my own secrets emerged, the more I wanted to get into that darkroom and compare our notes.
Did she get those dizzying panic attacks too? Was this a sign?
What about not wanting to make friends?
What about not trusting people, in general? Was that normal?
What about feeling lost in the world? Lost in my own future?
What about my curiosity about what she did to herself? Why did she do it? Why did she seal the kitchen door with wet towels to spare me the gas?
Did she really spare me? Was this what spared felt like?
Max Black would bring me closer to God than anyone ever did. Eventually.
Up until then, no one had ever convinced me that there was a real God. Not the priest who buried my mother when I was four years old, not my aunt Amy, who tried to school me in Catholicism after Darla died.
Because no god would make my mother put her head in the oven.
Not with me in the house.
Not on Letter N Day.
No god would let my dad suffer so much that he ended up resembling a hairy hot-air balloon. No god would make him ride one of those Jazzy carts at the supermarket like old people do because his knees hurt too much to walk.
He was only forty-three years old.
I was seventeen when I drank the bat with Ellie. Seventeen is the average age of one's first sexual encounter in America. I'm not sure what the average age of bat ingestion is.
The average age of childbearing in America is about twenty-five, which is when Dad and Darla had me. But nothing else about Darla and Dad was average.
Darla was a nearly famous photographer. Dad, before his present incarnation as the man on the Jazzy in the freezer aisle, was a painter. They built this house with the money Darla inherited from her mother after she died from non-microwave-oven cancer in 1990. Darla inherited $860,000, which was a lot of money. Her sister, Amy, inherited the same amount and blew it all on frivolous things. A tanning bed. Trips to Mexico. Bigger boobs. Shoes. A lot of shoes.
As sisters go, they were as opposite as Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. Sadly, the immortal one in this case was too distracted by sales at Macy's to start the Trojan War or launch a thousand ships.
After Darla died, Aunt Amy tried for years to con me into having a First Communion in a pretty white dress. She would try to teach me about confession and sin and the Virgin Mary, but all I could see when she told me about Catholicism were her weird, round, wobbly silicone boobs.
She always wore low-cut tops.
Even when she dressed to sell God to little motherless girls.
Amy didn't come around anymore. I didn't expect a graduation card or any sort of present from her, though she did still send birthday cards—usually with overly girly motifs that made me want to puke. Amy always had a way of going over the top because I told her I was a feminist when I was twelve, and she told Dad he'd brainwashed me into being some sort of half-boy.
Which was bullshit. I was not a half-boy. I was still totally myself. I just wanted Aunt Amy to get paid as much as a man if ever she got off her lazy ass and got a job.
Why did everyone mix up that word so much?
My dad didn't brainwash me; I was simply aware. And from the looks of things around my high school, I was in the minority.
Ellie told me once that the feminist years were over.
"What the hell does that mean?" I'd asked.
"It means that's so 1970s or something. Twentieth-century."
I looked her up and down. "And hippie communes are twenty-first-century? Seriously?"
"You know what I mean," she said. "It's over. We got what we needed. We don't have to fight anymore."
I remember exactly what I said that day when she said that. I said, "Homeschooling is making you stupid."
But it wasn't homeschooling.
She'd said what most people really think.
I hadn't always been the yearbook photographer. Halfway through senior year, they asked me to step in. Ms. Ingraham, the yearbook advisor, said she figured I'd have a good eye. She did not mention why she figured this. She did not mention that I might have inherited my eye from Darla-whose-eyes-no-longer-saw.
"John Risla was expelled," Ms. Ingraham said.
"I heard." He was a serial plagiarizer. We all knew it was coming.
- "Wickedly clever...a genre-busting battlefield of a book."—Bestselling author Rick Yancey for The New York Times
- * "This beautifully strange, entirely memorable book will stay with readers."—School Library Journal, starred review
- *"Not only thoroughly original but also uniquely compelling and deeply memorable."—Horn Book, starred review
- * "A novel full of provocative ideas and sharply observed thoughts about the pressures society places on teenagers, especially girls."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- * "An indictment of our times with a soupçon of magical realism.... Will inspire a new wave of activists."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
- * "King performs an impressive balancing act here, juggling the magic realism of Glory's visions with her starkly realistic struggle.... [A] powerful, moving, and compellingly complex coming-of-age story."—Booklist, starred review
- * "King continues to be one of the most original (yet accessible) YA writers today, and the magical realism element accentuates the humanity of the narrative."—The Bulletin, starred review
- "This book reminds you to get scared. It reminds you that battles fought aren't always won, that history repeats itself, that what we take for granted can easily be dismantled."—"Birthday by Birthday, a Starter Library for Young Feminists" --BNTeenblog
- "You won't be able to put down this futuristic story about a girl who starts having visions of both the past and the future-in which she sees an end to women's rights and a civil war between sexes."—Teen Vogue
- "The characters will stay with readers long after they finish the novel....Highly recommended."—VOYA
- "Glory is a wry, occasionally acerbic narrator, exhibiting the balance of truth-telling and blindness so common to smart teens. In trademark King style, the chapters alternate between daily life and troubled future, despair and humor, rage and acceptance."—Shelf Awareness
- On Sale
- Jun 2, 2015
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers