March 20, 2014

Cristin Terrill: "All Our Yesterdays"

Title: All Our Yesterdays  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Cristin Terrill [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi
Year: 2013
Age: 12+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Time travel is mostly believable and well executed, and puts new spins on the concept. Narrative is peppered with nice twists, hints (to be caught later) and reveals. Dynamics among characters ring true.
Cons: A couple of unresolved or too far-off details. The writing would have benefited from a little more sophistication.
Will appeal to: Time travel lovers, of course. But pretty much anyone who likes a romantic adventure packed tight with action and feelings.

Blurb: 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. She's tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. 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. But on one disastrous night, James's life crumbles apart, 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. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: How do you review a book that half the blogging world has sliced and reassembled in any possible way already? Is there a different, fresh perspective you can examine it from? An invigorating challenge :). Let's see what I can come up with...
I've had this book on my radar since the very first blurb was revealed - there wasn't even a cover yet. Now, time travel never fails to draw my attention, especially if it promises two different stories about the same character in two different time frames...and the possibility of them confronting each other. I was aware this book would have romance in it, too, and a once-spoiled girl - but somehow, even that early, I was convinced it would end up a winner. Which it ultimately did. Why? Here are my reasons...

a) Refreshing, well founded time travel. Now, it looks like you can break all kinds of time travel rules in fantasy, especially when it comes to TV shows: "Charmed" and "Supernatural" have taught us that much. But sci-fi is usually much stricter. I guess you're familiar with time travel golden rules n° 1 & 2...
  1. Golden rule n° 1: there's only so much you can change (see "Grandfather Paradox").
  2. Golden rule n° 2: you can't meet your past self, or the fabric of time would never survive that (though I don't think anyone ever explained us how).
Well, Terrill finds a way around the above rules, which allows us to enjoy an exciting ride without having to tear logic to pieces. Though the future and past selves are face to face only for a (relatively) short span of time at the end of the book, it's worth the wait. Also, I found Terrill's use of flashbacks interesting. While they are inserted matter-of-factly in most stories, here the author chooses to tie them to the characters, so that such flashbacks become part of their ongoing experience and don't interrupt the flow of the story. On the contrary, they are weaved effortlessly (though dramatically) into the narrative, and make us privy to a lot of information without sounding contrived.
Em and Finn's is a one-way trip, which adds a realistic and serious feel to the time travel aspect. Because they're not simply jumping from time frame to time frame - they're on a mission whose cost will be their annihilation. There's no coming back and finding a "magically" changed future for them. Only their younger selves will be left, and the bond Em and Finn have forged during their trials will be undone. Also, they end up partly changing the future at some point, so that they can't rely on their own memories and tell what comes next anymore. This adds to the drama and spices up the story even more.
My only problem with the time travel aspect is: since 14 previous versions of Em and Finn have tried to prevent the creation of the time machine and failed, what became of them after? They supposedly weren't erased, because despite their best efforts, the machine is still going to be built. But in case they were "sucked back" into the future (how?), they would simply resume their previous version. This seems to indicate that any failed attempt to change the future ends up with Em and Finn (and the past they've visited) vanishing and starting from scratch. It doesn't make solid sense though. 

On a side note, James is a genius at 18, and Finn not only will be able to operate the time machine in the future, but also to simulate a different date than the one he and Em are going back to. This is a bit of a stretch, but of course it's convenient. [...]

b) Common tropes revisited. Spoiled, rich girl loves hot, rich geek. Easy stuff, uh? Not really. Because Marina is not really spoiled - she just happens to live by the rules of a spoiled world. Hospital-scene-with-the-nurse excluded, she never comes off as a conceited bitch - not for real. We are immediately introduced to her inner insecurity, innocence and loyalty. The way Marina looks up to James should feel annoying, but it's believable. Luckily, this is not a case of insta-love. The two of them grew up together, shared so many things - the way friendship evolves into (unrequited) love for Marina is very realistic, because alas, I think most of us have been there.
Love triangle. Yes. Almost a couple of them. But so artfully disguised, you don't even notice. You know me - I'm the Queen of Love Triangle Resistance. So, if they work for me, you're safe ;). Basically, since Em and Marina are the same person in two different time frames, and each one loves one of the guys, this qualifies as a love triangle. Also, when Em faces younger James, her old feelings for him resurface despite all that happened (will happen?) since she was 16. So, double love triangle. But not really...

What I didn't buy: a few details. 
  1. Too much has changed in only four years. Then again, Terrill couldn't have an even older Em-Finn-James trio, I suppose. They're not teen anymore as it is - and this is a YA novel, after all. I reckon that adding 3 or 4 years more to the older characters would have a) distanced them from teen readers too much and b) made them less innocent...
  2. Em and Finn have been tortured, but they seem to be fine enough when they get to the past - I suppose they don't even have visible scars, since they can get away with impersonating their younger selves...
  3. And oh, there are a couple of mistakes, at least in my paperback edition. Page 38: apparently, Italy still has the lira. Now, we are using euros since 2002...and this book was released in 2013. Was this from a very old draft? (I doubt it - Terrill is a young woman). But even then, it should have been updated...Also, page 168: it says Marina, but of course it's Em speaking.
  4. This could have been perfect. And I really liked it. It just lacked the "wow" factor for me, that I was able to find in other novels...also, while the writing is good, it's not mind-blowing. Having said so, this book has the perfect ending. So now I do want to read the sequel (and I have an idea about how it may actually unfold), but at the same time, I would have liked AOY to remain an only child. I really, really hope the next installment won't disappoint! -> -> -> Late note: it's now August of 2014, and I've just found out that there will be no sequel. Apparently, this piece of news has been out for a couple of weeks and I didn't have a clue O_O. You can read Cristin's explanatory post here. (Thank you, Cristin, for being so honest. You could have made big money on a sequel, no matter how bad). Anyway, she promised a few AOY short stories and novellas in the future, the first of which can be read here.
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      1. Very few time travel novels work for me. It always feels like an easy way out or a way to make things go the way they need to.

        I have heard very good things about this one so I might give it a shot.

        1. This one is really flesh and blood, so to speak. Not "easy way out" or anything. Because nothing of this is easy - I would say it's extremely painful...even the world they come back to in the end. (Well...some of them at least).

          *Psst...did you notice the love triangle mention? LOL*

      2. I've had this one on my shelves for awhile, but I'm not a huge time travel fan. I will get to it someday though- the fact that it didn't have a wow factor for you makes it less of a priority... but that's okay- so many books on my shelves!!!

        1. I hope the wow factor comment won't discourage you - or other potential readers. I just meant that it didn't blow my mind, but it's still a 4 star books for me. It has romance, but not the fluffy type. It's time-travel based, but it's done in a way that even if you're not a huge fan of the genre, you can enjoy the ride. Because now that you make me think of it, this book is mainly about the chances we take, the changes we undergo, and the choices that mold us into the kind of persons we'll become tomorrow...


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