Thursday, March 6, 2014

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrell

I think we must love to read about dystopian futures because they allow us to imagine the unimaginable and shiver in the dark while feeling grateful that things aren’t quite that bad. The thing I dislike most about dystopian literature is this way that our horrible future is so engrossing, we forget to ask how we ended up there. Cristin Terrell's All Our Yesterdays takes that dare and explores the possibility of using the past to change the future.

I’ll be honest, when I picked up All Our Yesterdays, I was bracing for yet another Hunger Games dystopia. Instead, I got a compelling read that examines the thinking and behaviors that can contribute to the creation of dystopian societies, and a thoughtful discussion of how we can and cannot control the trajectories of our lives.

It was, in my humble opinion, a roller-coaster worth buckling up for. I started the book on Super Bowl Sunday. And finished it on Super Bowl Sunday because I couldn’t seem to put it down for longer than it took to make snacks and occasionally glance up at the game (remember that game? The book was infinitely more engrossing).

The premise of Yesterdays is that Em, who has been imprisoned in a secret military base that houses a time machine, is the only person who can prevent the probable future. She is the only one who saw the beginning of the cultural shift that led to the totalitarian society she now loves in. If she can get to the time machine, she might be able to return to those moments when the shift was nascent, and correct the thing that tipped her society into this military state.  Unfortunately, as we learn, this is a correction she’s attempted to make many times.

There are corollaries to our evolving society (think NSA), and enough twists and unexpected turns to keep readers guessing throughout. There are also enough surprises, red herrings, and dead ends to make it difficult to summarize the book without giving much of it away. What I can say is this: read it! 

Have I mentioned how much I liked this book? 
What worked:

The narrative voice: Terrill writes with a great assurance and energy; the POV moves between Em and Marina who are very strong female leads, each of whom brings a different voice to the work.

The plot: The tension was nail-biting in many places, the story itself was engrossing and well-paced. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing throughout the novel.

The characters: James and Finn, as secondary leads are anything but secondary. Like Em, they’re both richly written, complicated and compelling characters. Em might be the protagonist, but it is largely James and Finn’s story.

What didn’t work quite as well:

The “twist” was transparent earlier, I think, than the author wanted. While it didn’t ruin the novel for me, I wished I hadn’t figured it out quite as quickly as I did because it watered down the suspense just a bit.  Note, however, that it didn’t keep  me from racing through the book.

The resolution was a little vague. One of the challenges of writing about time travel and time paradoxes is making the chaos accessible and very, very clear to the reader.  While most of the book had the necessary  pieces, the end wrap-up missed a couple of the threads. 

Compulsive readability scale: a solid 9.  In order to be a 10, it would have to keep me up half the night or at least away from the Super Bowl snacks.

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