Time travel done right. Finally! Thank you, Cristin Terrill! The cover flap of this book says ""All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice." Having just closed the cover, I couldn't agree more.
Time travel inevitably involves a complicated story that is difficult to follow. That is, unless an author sets simple rules and sticks to them. In this story, Terrill has done it expertly. One of her laws - the idea that time has a sentient quality - fixes many of the mistakes made by many storytellers. I also loved the idea that time is not linear as we understand it. What if it's really not? The way she explains paradoxes is brilliant. The bottom line is simply this: when we as readers know the rules the author has created and she doesn't break those rules, we can finally enjoy a great story that makes sense.
The tale is told from the viewpoints of Em and Marina. By alternating perspectives with each chapter, it is far more easy to keep track of what is present and what is past. Even when it starts to get really complicated - and it does near the end - it is not difficult to understand.
The plot is fairly straightforward. Isn't every time travel story about going back to fix things in the past? The thing that's unique about this particular story is that it's been done 14 times previously by the protagonist. Will she get it right this time? Well, that's the story.
Em is a gritty main character. She's been through torture, she's been on the run from authorities, she's been part of a rebel/terrorist organization and she's both escaped and been caught. She's been betrayed. She is determined and focused, and yet never seems to have lost her true heart or humanity. She is fiercely protective of Marina. She is somewhat of a study in contradiction, and that's what I liked about her. Every time I thought she was tough and heartless, she was overcome by her love and compassion.
Marina, on the other hand, is a spoiled rich girl who is shallow and a bit silly. These negative qualities can be attributed to her insecurity, though. She is at the same time loyal and loving, devoted to James. Mostly she is simply immature. But even at that, she is not unlikable. So much of today's society is full of teenagers just like her. On a list of the best of them, I'd at least put her at the top.
James is a brilliant character, both in his personality and in the way he is written. Finn is charming and funny, practical and humble. The lesser characters (Richter, Nate, the Shaw family, Marina's parents and Finn's mother) are really just highlights. They serve the plot and are each distinct without drawing attention from the main points we really care about.
The action doesn't stop for a minute. The suspense kept me riveted enough to read the book in one sitting. The climax of the story is terrifying, shocking and complicated at the same time. I found myself shaking my head at the end, wondering exactly what happened, having to think it all through again to make sense of the paradoxical aspect of the events.
This book is smart, and I like that. It's also not pretentious. It is heart-wrenching, scary and romantic. It may even be possible, and I think that is what may be, for me, its most attractive quality. I do love a story that just might happen. This isn't just a great story for time-travel lovers. Fans of dystopia and apocalypse will also enjoy those elements that it offers.
And the ultimate irony here is that virtually every novelist goes back and rewrites their book. Isn't that some version of time travel, rewriting the past? Well done, Cristin Terrill. Could you do it again please?