In The First State of Being by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow Books, March 2024), Michael is a lonely celebrating his 12th birthday in the summer of 1999 when his life is changed by the appearance of strange kid in his apartment complex. Michael is an awkward kid obsessed with Y2K (yes, that moment when computers will move from 1999-2000 and supposedly cause problems), along with worries about his embarrassing past encounters with kids his age and the hard things to come in his next year at school. But with the arrival of Ridge, a boy from 200 years in the future, Michael is forced to rethink his life and his role in it.
Ridge, a self-proclaimed genius from 2199, has studied philosophical concepts as well as the science of space travel. He knows the names and theories of time travel scientists since his mother is the one that has made the time travel mechanism that brings him to 1999. He’s also studied 1990s history and culture to be better prepared for whatever one would encounter should they travel back in time. Although Michael and his babysitter Gibby have never before thought about their world as unique, with Ridge’s fascination with the mall, the answering machine, the car, and other distinctly 1990s things, they begin to look at the world with new eyes.
At first glance, The First State of Being may be written off as a science fiction time travel book. One could also consider it as a novel of self-discovery, especially for Michael. But in some respects, the 200 years of difference between Ridge and his 1990s friends is not the central theme. Rather, the book just bursts with philosophical questions about what does time and now mean? What does the future hold and why? How does what we do now impact the future? How does what we did in the past impact our now? What are the possibilities of the future? Who and what will we be in one day, one year, two years, twenty years?
The mix of conversations between the 1999 characters and the boy from 2199 brings all sorts of considerations into focus. As a result of Ridge’s encouragement to focus on the First State of Being (meaning the current moment), Michael can move on. He is no longer going to be worried about the past (he can’t change it) and the worries about the future are not set in stone (there is always a possible positive result along with any possible bad result).
I loved the book so much that as soon as I finished, I started rereading it, looking for the moments in the story that helped explain the book as a whole, the things that put all that happened into perspective. Although one can read The First State of Being as being an amusing story that all fits together satisfactorily, I also loved looking at how even this narrative story intertwined the past and the future. It all happens at once.
One more thought: See the cover? That is the reflection of the kids in a puddle of rain. We may think we’re looking at the real thing, but we’re actually looking at the reflection of it. This is kind of the feel of the story: contemplating the here along with the past and the future. Which part of these happenings is real?
WOW, I feel like my thoughts about this book is moving into Plato territory now. What a fascinating look at philosophy, just in that front cover. Nice job, cover artist!
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance review copy of this book provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.