Today I bring you a review of a fantastic debut (I can't believe this is a first novel, guys) by Cristin Terrill, called ALL OUR YESTERDAYS.
|UK Cover from Bloomsbury|
"You have to kill him."The Review
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.
As soon as I saw the synopsis for this book up on NetGalley I just *had* to have it. It immediately reminded me of an Australian drama series that I was hooked on as a young teen, The Girl From Tomorrow (although the stories are actually very different). I'll always remember how that show thoughtfully illustrated chaos theory and the nature of paradoxes. Paradoxes, and the various ways they can play out, fascinate me; I love time travel stories, because when they're done well they have a dense complexity to them which is hard to achieve in any other kind of fiction. ALL OUR YESTERDAYS is a very, very well done time travel story.
Sixteen year old Marina is a poor little rich girl who has everything materially and yet longs for the basics most kids take for granted - like parents who care about her instead of using her as prop for their shallow, social-climbing lives. Constant emotional neglect has instilled a deep sense of self-loathing in her. She has a couple of girl-friends whom she strongly suspects only want to be around her because of her family's wealth, and whom she puts up with even though they don't seem to have her best interests at heart. She expects nothing better. The only person who makes her feel good about herself is her best friend James. James is rich, handsome and brilliant. He's the same age as Marina, but doesn't spend as much time with her as he used to, because he graduated high school at thirteen and went straight onto advanced studies at university.
James lost both his parents to an accident at a young age and was left deeply traumatised. His beloved older brother, Nate, a rising young congressmen, is his guardian. Despite being socially awkward and absorbed to the point of obsession with his cutting edge work in physics, James is a good friend to Marina, and in return Marina loves him with the kind of single-minded, ruthless devotion which can only come from a place of complete loneliness.
Marina responds to the advent of a new friend - Finn - into James' life just as you might expect; with jealousy and resentment. She sees Finn as an obstacle in the way of her ultimate goal, which is to get James to love her back so that he'll never leave her. Finn seems boundlessly self-confident, and his humour and laidback relationship with James set Marina completely on edge. She's sure that he's mocking her and messing with her on purpose. But Finn's life, family, and motivations are a mystery to Marina, and even to James.
Just as Marina is scrunching up her courage to confess her feelings to James, terrible events overtake the mismatched trio. They and the people most important to them come under attack, and all sense of safety shatters. Desperate to understand who is after them and why, they embark on a journey which will force them to question not only their relationships with each other and their assumptions about their world, but the nature of their own souls.
Meanwhile, years in the future, a pair of captured freedom fighters suffer brutal torture at the hands of a pair of men they call the Doctor and the Director. They are completely at the mercy of the totallitarian regime which has taken control of America, and plunged the entire world into war. Starved, sleep-deprived, beaten and interogated on a regular basis, the only comfort they have in their bare cells is each other's voices through the wall, and the knowledge that they haven't given up the location of the vital piece of paper which is the only reason they are still alive.
In the midst of this nightmare ordeal, they discover a list - a list left for them by a past version of themselves. The writing makes it clear that if they can break out, they will have the chance to go back and change the past in order to save themselves and the world from this terrible outcome. In fact, the list shows them that many different past versions of them have already attempted to do so, trying multiple stategies to attempt to prevent the construction of Cassandra, a giantic neutron collider which makes time travel possible and which has resulted in the horror they are now experiencing. Each strategy, from the simple to the extreme, has failed. The list tells them that there is only one possible thing left to do.
They have to kill someone.
Someone they knew and loved in their former lives, before everything went so terribly wrong and their world imploded. Someone whom they know their past selves will die to protect.
The premise of this book is spine-tingling - but that isn't all it has to offer. It's very well written, with vivid, believable dialogue and a fantastic sense of pace. The characters of Marina, Finn, James and future Em and Finn are wonderfully complex and real, characterised with a light touch that reveals them gradually through their actions as the story progresses. And in particular, I found Em's love and tenderness towards the past version of herself incredibly moving. It's so common to see modest - ie. self hating - heroines who 'don't know they're beautiful/special/smart/worthy of love' portrayed as positive in YA. It's joyous to read about a character whose journey, even in the midst of near-apocalypic events, is ultimately one to self-acceptance and self-respect.
The narrative is complicated but cleverly structured, flashing backward and forward between the actions of bleak, determined future Em and Finn and the struggling, immature present Finn, James and Marina, and then back further still, to other significant events that tie the two realities together. It felt like a series of Russian dolls, secrets nestling within each one so that every time you thought all had been revealed, the story would turn again. Marina and Em had subtly distinct voices, but they were similar enough that whether I was reading about the story's 'present' or 'past' or 'future', eveything felt seamless.
I have to admit that at the end of the story I was left with a few queries about how certain paradoxes resolved themselves. The idea that space-time has a kind of sentience, and attempts to mend rifts in its own fabric, was mentioned a couple of times, but I'm still not sure why some events 'rewound' themselves and others stuck. I think that future re-readings of this book would definitely repay me with a deeper understanding of how time travel in this universe worked. But all this aside, the ending was both bittersweet and deeply satisfying.
ALL OUR YESTERDAYS is an action packed and profoundly emotional first novel, written with skill and self-assurance which have made Cristin Terrill an auto-buy author for me from now on. I can't wait for it to be available in hard copy here in the UK (August the first!). Highly recommended.