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Her Fine Eyes

Caustic reviews of YA books I adore. 

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All Our Yesterdays

All Our Yesterdays - Cristin Terrill

***Note: this review assumes that you've read the book.***


One-sentence summary: If you squint past the time travel errors, and manage to swallow the Anakin-Skywalker-esque explanation for how the Bad Guy came to be, this is basically one giant, entertaining YA chase scene, with a nice theme of learning to love yourself thrown in for good measure.


The plot. All Our Yesterdays is YA dystopia sci-fi, without (unfortunately) actually showing the reader the dystopia. We see a hardened prisoner named Em escaping from the evil Doctor with her devoted next-door cell mate, Finn, to make their way to a time-travel machine called Cassandra, in order to travel back in time four years and prevent the creation of said machine. Based on a note written in Em's handwriting and stuffed in a drain in Em's cell, they know that this is the fourteenth attempt, and the only course of action they haven't tried is to kill the younger version of the Doctor before he can create Cassandra. Unfortunately, the younger version of the Doctor is James, Em's lifelong crush and best friend. Marina, Em's younger version, is just a girl who wants a happily ever after with the brilliant, handsome, slightly volatile boy next door, who happens to be destined to become an evil genius. In alternating chapters narrated by Em and Marina, we see the two time streams intertwine and collide. 


What I liked. I quite liked Em's motivation to protect Marina, her younger self. I liked the implication that she had grown to love herself over the years, enough to have a big-sister or even maternal desire to secure her own youthful innocence, no matter the cost to her current, scarred self (Em will never have existed if she and Finn are successful in their quest). I like that we're following the exact four-years-ago timeline that matches this final attempt to destroy Cassandra, so that we get to see the final outcome for young Marina. I liked the open ending promising that her affection for Finn is growing as they mourn together. More generally, I liked Finn's and Marina's relationship, and Em's and Finn's. I also really liked the exploration of the question of whether a person is responsible for a future crime if he hasn't already thought of it--the idea of intention and free will are cleverly poked at. (I disagree with the moaning on goodreads of readers who hated that Em couldn't pull the trigger on young James. This was a wonderful dilemma she struggled with.)


What didn't work so well. There were some time-traveling glitches that made me stumble. For instance, how does Em know what happened in previous attempts (where she and Finn presumably died)? She has dialogue-specific memories from West Virginia (e.g. Rena snoring), which couldn't have been written on that tiny paper in the drain pipe. Was I not reading carefully, and that information was gleaned from one of her time-travel, epileptic-like seizures? Similarly, how could Finn have a scar on his hand (the one he fondles when he's nervous) from one of the previous attempts? Wouldn't his body reboot each time the time line fails? And why are the Doctor and the Director demanding to know where the documents are--the scribbled notes that were the "aha" inspiration for Cassandra--if Cassandra has already been successfully invented? (Also, the torture scenes were a tad cliche. I couldn't stop thinking, "Ver ahr ze papers?!" It was much more affecting to know that sometimes the Doctor came in and wanted to talk to her as his old friend; that's subtle torture.)

There were some tiny plot problems. When the cop knocks on Nate's CT door, looking for James and company, why wouldn't he go around to look at the rear door of the house (and therefore see the car Marina pulled around back, over the lawn)? What was the point, in a broader plot sense (not just to give her angst, and to threaten their moving her away from James), of Marina's parents' separation? 
Lack of development in a few areas made it hard for me to feel invested.
1. The "shell of a world" that supposedly exists after Cassandra's invention--Em's and Finn's dystopic world--is only paid lip service. We're led to believe it's a massive violation of civil liberties, the deliberate murder of innocent civilians in order to promote the police state, along with (huh?) the dissolution of the European Union. But we never get to feel how horrible it is, and so we're left to root for the only thing we can latch onto emotionally: for Em to save Marina from future torture. I would have liked more world-building so that we could hope for some sort of global improvement, as well, but I didn't really find myself caring about the rest of the planet.
2. James, on whom the whole plot rests, is just not fleshed out enough. In particular, his whole turn to the dark side is not believable. His temper tantrum at a young age when his parents died is supposed to be a prelude to his volatile nature. (Throwing a lamp as an eight-year-old and then having a nervous breakdown that sends you to the hospital doesn't actually seem to be an overblown response to the traumatic death of both parents in a fiery car crash.) The death of his beloved brother Nate is supposed to push him over the edge into feverishly producing the time machine and using it, (badly, misguidedly) to make the world a better place. But just as Anakin Skywalker's motivation was a headslapper--you had a dream about Padme's death, so you're allying with the Emperor, the person Padme hates and distrusts?--the impetus for James's change is weak here.
3. There are some secondary characters who are underdeveloped and also sort of disappear by the end: Tamsin and Sophie, young Marina's two best girlfriends, are shallow and gossipy and social climbing. It's a shame that in order to contrast the good and strong relationship with Finn, these two female characters were belittled. Also, Luz, the maid, is given a nurturing, maternal role, but without a chance to show anything beyond that (we hear, sort of in the background, that she's being tortured for her association with Marina). Finn's mom and Marina's mom and dad are likewise used as props and as plot devices, rather than fleshed out as real people. And in every single time-travel scenario, Nate's girlfriend is screwed, but we never get a chance to see her grieve.
4. Speaking of secondary characters, you do realize that the guard who helped them escape each time will never win the girl of his dreams in the world without Cassandra, right? Poor guy.
Neither here nor there. Did anyone else think Marina's name was homage to Melina Marchetta?
In sum. This is quite a fun read, and I was engaged by the idea of a care-worn, confident, older Marina wanting to avoid younger Marina's pain and loss of naivete. I only wish James's motivation had been more palpable, and some of the world-building and rules of time travel had been stronger.