Disney-Hyperion pushed this one SUPER hard at BookExpo, so being my stubborn, contrary self, I waited a bit before reading it. Hype, after all, can get me all excited about consuming the product, but it can also raise expectations to such a ridiculous point that disappointment is inevitable.
Case in point: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
(Which, by the way, I haven't given up on! I just don't have much affection for the Skye character—so far, she's a boring archetype rather than a real person, and while I find the rest of the new characters interesting, none of them has really made the transition from archetype to person either—and as the show has pretty much just been about her arc so far, it's really failing to engage me. The most recent episode might have been a turning point, though. We'll see. Errr... right, moving on.)
From the moment that Em was thrown into her prison cell, she's been fascinated by the drain in the floor. At first, it evoked only terror—after all, what are her captors planning to do to her that would require a drain in the floor?—but as the months have gone on, the fascination has grown into an obsessive curiosity.
When she finally finds a way to lift the cover, she makes a startling—though, considering the reasons that she's being held, not all that surprising—discovery: She's been a prisoner in this cell before.
Fourteen times, in fourteen alternate timelines, she's been held in this very same place. Fourteen times, she's traveled back in time to try to prevent the future she's currently living in, and fourteen times, she's failed. The document hidden in the drain is a brief chronicle of the ways in which she and her friend Finn have tried to save the world. The last item on the list is the one they've tried to avoid at all costs, but now, it's a necessity: they have to travel four years into the past and kill their best friend.
All Our Yesterdays was such a mixed bag for me.
On the one hand, Terrill does a great job of writing two versions of the same characters: Future Em and Past Marina, Finn's selves and, to a lesser degree, James' past and future selves are all clearly the same people with the same personalities, but they are vastly different in terms of maturity and perspective. Which is extremely cool. Some readers are BOUND to have difficulty with the contrast between Em and Marina—Marina's everyday does-he-like-me and will-this-food-make-me-fat woes could easily come off as self-absorbed and somewhat obnoxious when compared to the high stakes Save The World backdrop of the story—but in context of story and character, Marina's issues work: she hasn't been through everything Em has, she doesn't have that perspective, and she hasn't yet developed a Steely Core.
Also, the relationships between the characters are hugely emotionally satisfying. Em's steadfast trust in and love for Finn has a believable solidity that would come from years of shared danger and trauma; her pity/affection for/protective feelings towards her own future self are almost maternal at moments; and her feelings about James—her childhood best friend and first crush turned semi-unwitting supervillain—are just as confused as you'd expect.
She does tend towards self-loathing in both versions of herself, which gets old—at one point, she was all, I hate myself, to which I responded in my notes, I'M STARTING TO HATE YOU, TOO—but it's consistent with her situation and personality. She also falls victim to the ever-annoying My Feelings Are Preventing Me From Doing The One Thing That Will Save Myself (And The World) From Torment And Possible Annihilation, but it works within the context of the story and the characters, so I gave her a pass there as well.
The action is strong, and the ultimate resolution of the story—I was so shocked when the story ended on a seemingly stand-alone not—is satisfying as well.
The aspects that I found problematic might have more to do with my tendency to overthink the mechanics of these things and/or my inability to just sit back and enjoy the ride. In short, I had a hard time with the existence of the list in the drain—it's been added to by all of the various versions of Em/Marina as her attempts to change the future result, time and time again, in her incarceration—because the whole thing just seems like a logical fallacy to me. Something about the whole thing just seems off to me. Maybe someone with a bigger brain can explain how it would be possible? Her obsession with the drain didn't feel right, either: if she's a new version of herself every time, why would she know it was special?
Auuuugh. Anyway. I do love them, but time travel stories often make me want to punch a wall.
Book source: Review copy via Netgalley.