WARNING: SOME SLIGHT SPOILERS MAY BE AHEAD
Time travel is a difficult thing to get right when it comes to books, but Cristin Terrill is beyond successful at it in All Our Yesterdays, which is one of the most haunting young adult novels I’ve read in a long time.
Em and Finn are locked up in cells next to each other in a mysterious government facility. Four years ago, Marina is in love with James, the super-clever brother of a senator who lives next door. Now Em and Finn must go back in time to kill James – the only way the world they currently live in will be saved.
If it sounds a little complicated, that’s because it is, but Terrill makes it all easy to understand. The basic premise is that the ability to time travel led to bad things, and Em and Finn must go back in time to stop time travel ever being invented. I got this concept and the time lines far quicker than I have other time travel novels I’ve read.
Em and Finn’s mission is a horrible one, but as a reader I knew exactly why they set out to kill James. Although Terrill doesn’t show us the world outside our four main characters and some secondary ones, it’s clear from the way she frames Em and Finn’s life – the flashbacks/flashforwards they have, the fear running through them at all times, the coldness of the doctor and the director – that the world in the future isn’t a good place.
I like that we found out so little about the future world. Terrill tells you just enough to give you a good idea of what’s going on, but her concentration is on the characters, and it’s the characters that make the novel shine. This is a spoiler-free review of All Our Yesterdays, so those of you who have read the book will know why I decide to talk about the characters as I do. Those who haven’t read it will be grateful I’ve chosen this route when you do read the novel.
First up are Em and Finn. Both are tough, but clearly scared and battling demons from their past and their future. Despite knowing they have to kill James, the pair are never shown as cold-hearted or ruthless. There’s a humanity to them both that makes them really appealing, and mostly that humanity comes through in the way they care for each other, and the way they care about Marina.
Oh, Marina. She’s the teenage girl we all felt we were inside, even if on the outside we put on a good front. I loved Marina, and Marina loved James, perhaps to her detriment. I thought Terrill was really, really good at crafting a genuine feeling teenage girl in the midst of a dystopian novel. It’s rare that you find such human characters in dystopian novels – the females are usually also warriors, something Marina is definitely not.
And James. My heart broke for James so many times over the course of All Our Yesterdays. This may be controversial, but I really liked James, despite his many, many faults. In some ways, I felt exactly what Marina felt for him, even though I knew those feelings weren’t good for her or for me. But that’s Terrill’s power, she can make you feel such human emotions for fictional characters that you’ll plow through the hurt and just carry on reading.
All Our Yesterdays is a painful novel, and really addictive. I love that it’s a standalone, and not part of a series. It meant the novel had really good pacing, and an ending that was just magnificent in its sadness and triumph. This is one book that I’m going to have a hangover from for a long time.
How I got this book: From the publisher, Bloomsbury