Cristin Terrill debuts her fantastic authorial talents with All Our Yesterdays, the first in her two book YA thriller series. The tale revolves around spoiled, sheltered, naïve teenage Marina and hardened, weary, battle-ready young adult Em. Em hates and fears the Doctor, the man who hunted her across the country, imprisoned her, and tortured her for information she doesn’t have. Em loves Finn, the boy in the cell next to her, the boy who ran with her, hid with her, and kept her sane. After months of psychological and physical abuse, Em discovers a note hidden in the drain of her cell with a cryptic message written in her handwriting. The note is impossible, but very real. It gives her instructions she has no choice but to accept, and if she succeeds she will alter the entire course of history and reality.
Marina loves her childhood friend James, a genius and scientific prodigy who only sees the bigger picture when he’s in the middle of it. Marina tolerates Abbott, James’ new friend and her competition for his limited affections. When someone assassinates James’ older brother and attempts to do the same to him, Marina and Abbott rally around him. The three teens set off on a journey to uncover the truth about Nate’s murder and what it has to do with James’ top-secret project he’s been working on ever since the untimely deaths of his parents several years before. James wants to fix things, to make everything like it was before. How far will he go to make things fit his version of “right,” and how many lives will he crush in his path?
Yesterdays hits the ground running. For Hera’s sake, the book opens with one of the more depressing quotes from Macbeth (his exclamation after learning of his wife’s suicide), then launches straight into Em contemplating the horrible things that might have have been flushed down the drain in her prison cell. “But when I saw the drain, I started to scream. It grew in my vision until it dominated the little cinderblock cell, and I kicked at the men who held me, trying to wrench my arms out of their iron grasp. I could only conjure the most gruesome scenarios for why they’d need a drain in the floor.” Things get darker and scarier from there. Terrill doesn’t mince or waste words. Everything spoken, pointed out, or referenced means something. This may be her first novel, but she doesn’t come off as a first-time author. Terrill has honed her craft to a fine point.
There are a few minor niggling bits in Yesterdays. The characters who weren’t bland and underdeveloped were pulled straight out of the Stock Character discount bin. I also could’ve done without the love triangle/hexagon. It seems like every YA book released in the last few years has been from the POV of a pretty, straight, middle or upper class white girl in love with the wrong boy and loved by the right one. But none of these ever mustered anything greater than slight irritation. The rest of the book was so well constructed, the story so well planned, the plot holes so well lampshaded, the ideology so well handled that the negatives were quickly forgotten or ignored.
I wish I could tell you more about how great the story was, but there’s no way to do it without spoiling the whole thing. There are several places where a lesser writer would run the plot off the rails or get lost in the weeds of too much needless detail and too little logic. Terrill keeps the plot moving steadily, inexorably forward. Though the climax is revealed in the beginning, even if it wasn’t you’d know it’s the only way the book could end. Even the characters know where they’re headed, but somehow Terrill prevents it from becoming boring or repetitive.
Terrill revels in the consequence of behavior and isn’t afraid to show bad things happening to good people. The worst of the violence (and all of the implied sex) takes place off stage, because YA, but the bruises and broken bones are talked about in explicit detail. She doesn’t just say Em and Finn’s future world is a totalitarian hellscape, she shows it. The Doctor becomes as cruel as he does because of realistic circumstances and his innate personality. His violence isn’t a flip of a switch or caused by a poorly contrived plot, but the inevitable development of a mercurial and selfish personality.
I’ve expounded upon my distaste for first person narrative before, but in this case, the narration choice works. Terrill doesn’t use Em or Marina as exposition tools. Instead, she uses their perspective to reveal the limitations of their world views and highlight how unreliable they are. Yesterdays is intended to be a duology, and I can’t wait to see how Terrill builds on her first story. Can I pre-order the sequel now? Gimme gimme. (Side note: “Duology” is a horrible word. I hate it almost as much as I hate “moist”…*shudders*. Second side note: Moist Duology is the name of my new band.)
Here’s the thing: I don’t generally like YA. Frankly, I don’t like much of anything, but that’s because I’m a bitter old woman whose only joys in life are television and my pet rats, but I digress. The thought of having to sit through 400 pages of teenage angst and hormonal kvetching sounds dreary and dull. I can put up with the movie version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but there’s not enough money in the world to make me sit down and actually read the book. Yes, I know, this makes me an awful snob, but if it makes you feel any better, I consume trashy paranormal romance novels like nobody’s business and have seen Pride and Prejudice—1996 and 2005—so many times I’ve had to rebuy the DVDs half a dozen times.
Despite my general disinterest in the genre, I keep finding YA books on my To Review pile. When I pick books I want to cover for Tor.com, I pop over to Amazon and read the description. If the back cover intrigues me, I raise my hand. If not, I forget it exists until the next Fiction Affliction. Problem is, Amazon is TERRIBLE at pointing out which books are YA and which are Adult. Which, I guess is kind of a good thing now that I think about it. If I’d known All Our Yesterdays was YA I never would have picked it up even with the awesome-sounding description. And I’m really glad I read it. Really, truly, seriously glad.
In case I wasn’t clear, you should read Cristin Terrill’s All Our Yesterdays immediately. Like, now. Go forth, my child. Off to the bookstore with you. Stop dillydallying. Get out your wallet and shoo.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.