ALL OUR YESTERDAYS by Cristin Terrill
jacket flap blurb
What would you change?
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 they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. 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. Em and Marina are in a race against time that only one of them can win.
All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.
Time travel stories are not easy to do. There is, inevitably, a long list of questions that accompany any plot point you try to create. But this book did really well. The dangers of time travel are outlined fairly quickly (mainly, time will try and pull you back to the present, so you don’t have all that long) and the paradox issue is covered (aka, it’s not actually an issue because of *interesting explanation*).
The book is written in alternating viewpoints between a girl called Marina, and her future self, Em. It’s interesting to go into both of their heads. They’re very different, and at the same time, its clear how Marina became Em. They are still the same person, but Em has been significantly (and believably) changed by her circumstances.
The story is basically this: Marina is in love with her neighbor, a science prodigy named James. James wants to build a time travel machine to help the world, to fix the mistakes of the past in order to make the present a better place. After suffering the death of his older brother, James’s interest transforms into full-blown obsession that eventually leads him to create a time travel machine (called Cassandra) and start to change time.
It sounds nice, but it swiftly turns really, really bad. Basically, James and his associate-with-questionable-morals go too far trying to protect everyone, and you end up with a police state where the government monitors everything. There’s also fighting and anarchists as the government clamps down, and some wars in the background, and stuff like that. Ultimately, James’s quest to create a utopia completely takes over his mind. He becomes the villain, the antagonist.
While it sounds a little far-fetched, it’s written very well and it’s completely believable. You can see the connections between the younger and older versions of the characters.
I did have a few critiques, though.
In the beginning, Em finds the list of things other versions of her have tried in the drain in her cell. She only finds this because of a weird obsession with that drain. Judging by the end of the book, I assume that the other versions of Em told the younger Marina when she was unconscious/asleep of something that the list was in the drain, or something about the drain. But it’s never explicitly said why Em knows there’s something up with the drain. If it had been explained, it wouldn’t have felt so weird at the beginning. Plus, it would have foreshadowed the end.
Also, the biggest problem with the book was that Em had so many chances to finish the mission (kill young James before he makes Cassandra), but she didn’t take them. Because part of her still loves James and she can’t bring herself to kill him and blah blah blah. And the explanation makes sense in theory, but in the book it didn’t work. It felt like the author was giving Em an excuse so the book wouldn’t end there and leave a whole bunch of things hanging.
I think, if Em’s hesitation had been written better, it wouldn’t have felt so awkward. In the book, at one point, she misses her shot. That worked, that made sense. But at another point, she’s watching Marina and James, through a window, sleep next to each other in bed, and she just stares at them and her hesitation is all internal dialogue. If there was more physical stuff—like maybe she is able to open the window, and line up the shot, but she can’t bring herself to pull the trigger—I think it probably would have worked.
But overall, the book was good. The characters were fleshed out, and they drove the plot forward.
rating out of five stars