All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill
All Our Yesterdays
By: Cristin Terrill
Release Date: August 1, 2013 (UK & Australia) / September 3, 2013 (US)
Rating: 3 stars
“You have to kill him.” Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.
Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.
Marina has loved her best friend James since the day he moved next door when they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles apart, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Now someone is trying to kill him. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it. At least not as the girl she once was.
All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.
All Our Yesterdays is I think the first book I’ve enjoyed despite the premise. I know that may sound like an odd thing to say, and maybe it’s just me, but when I read the summary I really thought I was being promised a complex, mind-bending time travel plot. I mean, a girl travels back in time to stop a madman – that has Terminator written all over it, doesn’t it? – but instead how Cristin Terrill handled the time travel made me want to travel back in time and erase the fact that I’ve read this. Still, I’m
an honest guy ok so I’m a pathological liar – but I would never lie about how I feel about a book, integrity and all – so I have to admit even though the time travel didn’t work for me, I still liked the parts of the book that happen in the present, because those chapters at least worked by reading like a pretty decent political thriller.
Here’s my problem with the time travel: the alternating chapters between the future character (Em) and the present character (Marina) don’t really mesh at first, and when Terrill finally gets them together at the same time (not a pun), she seems to do everything in her power to avoid time paradoxes. In other words, we have two chapters with Em in prison in the future, a few chapters of Marina being a shallow DC socialite in the present, then a chapter of Em escaping in the future – rather than feeling like a single cohesive narrative, it’s like reading two completely unrelated plots that only barely come together at the end. The problem, I think, is that for a book about time travel, Terrill is still thinking in linear time, so there are none of the subtle connections linking these two different times that I would expect from a time travel book. In fact, I’m not kidding when I say Terrill goes out of her way to avoid time paradoxes – one of the first rules she lays down about time travel is that time is sentient and takes care of the paradoxes on its own, and I’m sorry but WTF that’s like saying length or width is intelligent and my desk drawer will organize itself because those dimensions will know when something is out of place. I don’t know if it’s a good thing then that time travel only comes into play twice, once with how Em escapes at the beginning basically recycling a time travel cliche involving causation, and once at the end resolving the whole thing with yet another nonsensical time travel rule. Yeah I’m disappointed, a well done time paradox for me makes a time travel book, even in Terminator we have a time paradox with Skynet basically causing John Conner to be born by sending the Terminator back in time to kill him, and Terrill’s approach in comparison is just lazy.
With that rant on time travel out of the way, I do have a few things to say about the characters. First, apparently (spoiler alert) it’s not supposed to be entirely obvious whether Em is a future version of Marina, but I don’t see anyone who’s confused about that and considering Finn calls her M… yeah, it felt to me like Terrill wanted to leave some ambiguity about it but kept forgetting as she was writing and the end result is Em’s relationship to Marina seems so wishy-washy. As for Marina herself, I don’t think I need to say more than this quote from the author:
Don’t worry so much about making Marina likable in the beginning. She’s a rich bitch with a heart of gold; embrace that. Once you do, she’ll come to life for you.
Definitely embraced alright. Then again, it’s hard for me to see how the characters grow from their present selves into their future selves, Marina’s about as superficial at the end as she is throughout the entire story, and I don’t think enough’s done to make James feel like he could grow into a threat in four years time, so while the idea of stopping a monster was intriguing, I didn’t get the sense of James being that monster required to really make it work; it was almost like they were killing a completely separate person. As for Em, she doesn’t do much besides angst over whether to shoot James for much of the book and I found her storyline so much weaker than Marina’s and constantly wished I could be past her chapters so I could see how Marina’s much more interesting storyline was playing out – oh, and how stupid can she be to think looking at her past self will destroy the universe? That’s not how physics works.
Ok, I know I’m being a downer, considering I did like this book after all, so here’s the part where I assure you the raving reviews all have merit. Terrill’s writing is fast paced and being a DC kid myself I love how the story when it’s not about time travel – most of the book actually – reads like a young adult political thriller, sort of like a cross between Gossip Girl and 24, but definitely way better than the images that comparison may conjure up. There’s a pretty intense side plot involving an assassination attempt against James’s brother Nate, and despite how the time travel is the talk of the town here, for me it was actually the government conspiracy stuff that saved All Our Yesterdays from being a total dud. I liked seeing James and Marina trying to get to the bottom of it, watching Terrill develop James’s character in relation to his whole political family, and it’s all pretty easy to appreciate because Terrill keeps the conspiracy stuff compartmentalized and distinct from the time travel stuff, but then the time travel has to rear its ugly head almost like a marginally logical twist that I knew was coming and even with all the heart put into James and Finn I just can’t reconcile the parts of the book that involved time travel with the parts that didn’t, what was an interesting and intriguing story just fell prey to a climax and ending of manipulation and convenience – I really think it says something when I feel the beginning, Em’s chapters, and the ending are the weakest parts of the book.
Basically – All Our Yesterdays is a neat thriller, but doesn’t work nearly so well with time travel thrown in. Although, if Cristin Terrill were ever to write a political thriller, just a political thriller, I would totally be on board (hint hint).