So, our sci-fi Saturday review is for Cristin Terrill's All Our Yesterdays. This is a book that I had the honor of reading very early, thanks to Disney Hyperion.
(In fact, Cristin mentioned that she thinks I was the first person to get a review copy!)
We loved this book, so my review is very very long. You've been warned.
Sci-Fi Saturday is where we review all of our sci-fi genre books!
Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: September 3rd 2013 by Disney Hyperion
Format read: Physical ARC courtesy of Disney-Hyperion
Cristin Terrill’s debut novel is a spectacular book that everyone will be talking about in the fall, and you don’t want to be left out. So buy it. You’ll thank me later.
Cristin Terrill’s All Our Yesterdays is definitely one of those books. The first time I heard about the book was on Twitter, when Cristin tweeted that the book was finally up on Goodreads.
When I clicked through to the Goodreads and read the synopsis, I was immediately hooked. As a long-time aficionado of science fiction and time travel stories, I knew that this was a book I had to read.
Fortunately for me, Disney Hyperion kindly sent me an ARC in the lead-up to publication, so I could get an early start on reading the book, and share my impressions with the rest of you.
Her only connection to the outside world is the voice of a long-time friend being held in the cell next door, and a list of instructions taped inside her cell drain – asking her to carry out an unimaginable list of responsibilities.
Four years earlier, Marina is living the high life in Washington, DC.
Though her home life isn’t perfect, she has a supportive group of friends, including the brilliant son of one of the most influential families in the nation.
Though their two lives may seem worlds apart, Marina and Em have one thing in common: they’re the same person.
Now, as tragedy begins to unfold for Marina, Em has one last chance to go back in time through a time machine called Cassandra, and make sure that the horrors of her present, doesn’t end up as Marina’s future.
However, Marina isn’t willing to let Em carry out her mission without trying to protect what’s hers.
Things that worked:
I think it’s fairly evident from the synopsis alone, that All Our Yesterdays presents a cast of characters that are about as far away from traditional YA characters as you get.
At the heart of the story, there are two versions of the two main characters - Marina/Em and young Finn/older Finn.
We’re introduced to Em and older Finn as the book opens, and quickly caught up on the horrors of their reality. The two of them live in a future that is not too distant from ours, but it’s also a future that is barely recognizable – there is enough government monitoring and brutality to make Orwell’s 1984 seem tame by comparison.
At the same time, we’re also introduced to Marina and younger Finn. Marina is bratty, spoiled and only has eyes for one person – her eccentric, famous neighbor, James. Tragedy has befallen James and his family far too many times, and Marina will do anything to protect him.
Without giving away too many spoilers, Terrill has the difficult job of making sure that both Marina and Em are unique and engaging for the reader in their own ways, but also relatable enough, so that the reader can see how consistent tragedy and trauma has transformed Marina into Em.
Terrill accomplishes this spectacularly, through both physical descriptions and the interspersed recollections of what Em and older Finn have gone through to get to this point.
At no point did I feel like Terrill was info-dumping – if anything, I though that her ways of recalling these memories to build her characters, were incredibly clever, and unlike anything I’ve read before.
All Our Yesterdays is Terrill’s debut novel, but it certainly doesn’t read like one.
Terrill writes in first person, present tense, switching flawlessly between Marina and Em’s narrations. The two narrations are distinct enough that you can see a visible difference between how Marina thinks verses how Em thinks, but Terrill also leaves enough clues, to show the reader how Marina can eventually become Em.
Outside of strict narration, Terrill does an excellent job in setting up how a person like James can actually believe that his skewed beliefs are truly better for the world, including several real-world examples of how a machine like Cassandra could potentially save lives.
(Terrill includes one example that made me raise my eyebrows both at her daring for selecting that particular example, and also because it made me sad in thinking that yes – a time machine really could have improved that situation).
Again, without giving too many spoilers away, Terrill’s writing is so rich and well thought out, it presents a host of thought-provoking moral dilemma that will both intrigue readers, and make them think about morality and the world purview.
* Plotting/world building.
I’m definitely running out of hyperboles to use at this point, but the plotting and world building in All Our Yesterdays is nothing short of stunning.
Plotting wise, we’re thrown into the action from page one. We learn from the very beginning that there’s a clock counting down, and it is literally a race against time for Em and Finn.
And more importantly, Em and Finn are not going to get the opportunity to try this again. After a string of more than ten failed opportunities, this is literally their last and only chance to save the world.
Terrill does an excellent job of keeping the action amped up as the book progresses– including near misses, new revelations, emotional meltdowns and the omni-present lurking of one of Em and Finn’s foes from the future – all of this building to a crescendo for the inevitable climax.
At the same time, Terrill also does a beautiful job of building two separate worlds. We learn, largely through flashbacks, about the devastated world that Em and Finn left behind, and everything they sought to do before they were incarcerated.
We also learn about the tragedy that has consistently befallen James, and how even one of the most well known faces in the nation can be pushed to do something that will unavoidably change the world for the worst.
There is not a single hole in Terrill’s world building, and I think that any reader who picks up the book will feel the same way.
* A determined female protagonist, who embodies strong, thought-provoking themes.
Okay – so themes are standard in any book. Duh.
But Terrill’s Marina/Em embodies a certain combination of thoughtful, intriguing themes that I haven’t seen in a female character since Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games.
Marina is loyal to a fault - she’s determined to see the best in people, even at the cost of her own happiness sometimes. She’s willing to sacrifice her own peace of mind to make James happy, simply because she feels like James has suffered far too much loss over the years.
She loves with her full heart, even though she may not always show it in the best way - and she’s beginning to realize that.
At the same time, Em is waspish and tetchy. But even with everything that she’s been through; Em’s still willing to show love and be loved. However, unlike the selfish form of love that Marina showed for James, Em’s love almost comes from the opposite end of the spectrum.
Em is willing to sacrifice any and all attempts at her own personal happiness, to make sure that the greater good wins out in the end. How can a reader not admire her level of dedication and willingness to sacrifice?
* The ending.
The ending of All Our Yesterdays is very much a pyrrhic victory. The end of the world is averted, but not without a high cost.
Personally, I thought the ending was a perfect mix of optimism and the bittersweet. Em and Finn have finally succeeded in achieving what they’ve been striving to accomplish, through fourteen incarnations.
And even though Em and Finn never wavered from knowing exactly what they had to do, their victory is achieved with results they never expected. Though they may not remember that what they did was for the greater good, the impact of their achievements will still be felt long afterward.
Ultimately, the ending can be used as a perfect example to readers of how an ending can be both heartbreaking, but fitting.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
However, for the sake of partiality, here are two things for potential readers to mull over:
* First, there is one minor logical inconsistency in the science of the time travel. Just how does Em communicate the list of instructions with future versions of herself? If time travel from James’s machine branches out into different timelines, how can the list essentially jump from one line to another?
(I’m probably being too much of a nerd in thinking about this, and frankly – it doesn’t take away from your ability to enjoy the book. Also, based on another review I saw, it's possible I may have missed a time-related explanation.)
* Second, there is arguably a certain degree of predictability to Terrill’s plot resolution. If you’re a science fiction geek like I am, you’ll likely guess the ending halfway through the book. It’s a conclusion that has been used before in similar storylines – both in print and on screen.
While I don’t think the commonality of the resolution takes anything away from the storyline, I can also see some readers not enjoying that feeling of predictability. So, I would tell any potential readers that might be swayed by those readers that the ending doesn’t take away from the book at all.
Terrill proves that she’s a master at plotting, and you’ll want to hang on for the ride.
In a field that has become increasingly crowded with great science fiction and dystopian books, All Our Yesterdays is truly spectacular and stands out in a league of its own.
I recommend this book for readers who like science fiction in general, but also for educators who may be looking for a book which encourages their students to think about free will, morality and the challenge of doing the right thing, even at an individual’s own personal cost.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of All Our Yesterdays from Disney-Hyperion, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!