All Our Yesterdays

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Summary from Goodreads:

What would you change?

Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside. 

Marina has loved her best friend, James, since they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it… at least, not as the girl she once was. Em and Marina are in a race against time that only one of them can win.

All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.

I really loved this book, which surprised me, I expected to like it – not to have a book hangover from it. I loved the back and forth between Em and Marina, the relationship between Em and Finn, Marina’s slow recognition that her love for James isn’t the love she had thought it would be, and the overarching theme asking what limits exist when searching for “the greater good.”

The back and forth between Em and Marina, the same person but two different girls, is really what I think made this book such a winner. We see Marina, 16, shallow, naive, snobby, and obsessed with her best friend – the only person she feels truly cares about her; and then there is Em, 20, strong, brave, dedicated to making sure her oldest friend isn’t able to turn into the monster he is now, trying to save the world from the inconceivable repercussions of time travel, and completely in love with Finn. The differences we see between the two at first is stark, but as Marian goes through the emotional trails of James’ slow sinking into his own mind, we see Em start to emerge – she becomes more confident, and strong enough to walk away from James when his manipulations of her feelings finally push her over the edge.

Though romance is a central element of this story, which is why I didn’t think I would love it, it’s done in a really great way. We see Marina as the obsessed love-sick teenager, who believes her first love is the only love. Then we have Em, who has a grown up relationship with Finn. She’s not attached to him because she feels he’s the only one who cares about her, but because they are a team, he balances her seriousness and self-conscious doubt with lightness and a self-depricating confidence that reminds her there are bigger things to worry about and that he will always be on her side – that’s a real relationship! I appreciate the juxtaposition that these two relationships present, and the idea that you’ll never forget your first love, but there may be someone out there who is better for you.

Beyond the amazing relationships, the characters were all complex and deep, I felt like I really got to know them. And in doing so it wasn’t too hard to see the dark side of James, who I never really liked – there was just something off about that kid. Then the idea of time travel, and the way it was explained added another layer of complexity that really completed this story. The overlapping of the stories from Em and Marina, the hidden details that gave you hints about the past and further, it was excellently crafted. Great all around! And while I am a bit upset that the sequel is not happening, it’s a great stand alone novel, and I am pretty sure some short stories are going to be coming out so that will be fun. There is also a scene on the author’s blog that takes place 9 months after the story that I think is a great addition, letting us see the emergence of the Em and Finn we fell in love with in All Our Yesterdays.

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