THEN: The formation of the UNA, the high threat of eco-terrorism, the mammoth rates of unemployment and subsequent escape into a world of virtual reality are things any student can read about in their 21st century textbooks and part of the normal background noise to Freya Kallas’s life. Until that world starts to crumble.
NOW: It’s 1985. Freya Kallas has just moved across the world and into a new life. On the outside, she fits in at her new high school, but Freya feels nothing but removed. Her mother blames it on the grief over her father’s death, but how does that explain the headaches and why do her memories feel so foggy?
When Freya lays eyes on Garren Lowe, she can’t get him out of her head. She’s sure that she knows him, despite his insistence that they’ve never met. As Freya follows her instincts and pushes towards hidden truths, the two of them unveil a strange and dangerous world where their days may be numbered.
Unsure who to trust, Freya and Garren go on the run from powerful forces determined to tear them apart and keep them from discovering the truth about their shared pasts (and futures), her visions, and the time and place they really came from.
Atmospheric Analysis: I’m imagining the cover designer for Yesterday sitting in front of his or her computer, thinking ‘It needs a little more…and a little more…and maybe a liiitle bit more…” until they ended up with the overly-busy cover art you see above. There’s part of a face, a city, silhouetted runners, a double helix (?), some birds, a bunch of tree things. It’s a little overdone, is what I’m saying.
Planetary Class: Part futuristic dystopia, part time travel thriller. (That’s technically a spoiler, I guess, but the blurb makes it obvious. As does the book itself, which I’ll go into in the expanded report.)
Viability Rating: The aforementioned time travel is the least plausible thing here. Everything else is either perfectly viable or else a relatively conservative extrapolation of current technology, barring maybe the neural network things that come into play later on.
Mohs Scale: I’m going to go with a 4 for this one.
Xenolinguisical Assessment: Tomorrow is written in the by-now standard first person present tense. The writing is generally what I’d consider ‘mature’, which goes for both the level of the prose and for main character Freya Kallas’ voice. My only complaint is that the run-on sentences, while stylistically appropriate, can sometimes feel cumbersome enough to weigh down entire scenes.
Expanded Report: Summed up in a single sentence, the plot of Yesterday sounds like it would be my kind of thing: Teenage girl moves from New Zealand to Canada after her father’s death, experiences increasingly-worrying holes in her memory, outruns mysterious government (possibly) agents out to stop her from learning what really happened in New Zealand.
Exciting stuff – or it would be, if the prologue didn’t reveal (or at least strongly suggest) the answer to every single one of the book’s central mysteries.
The first few chapters after the prologue seem to be trying to lull the reader into a false sense of security: Fraya tries to integrate into her new school, including going out on a date that ends badly and making friends with the two designated oddballs in her class, while also dealing with her grief over her father’s sudden death. Her memory lapses and other cognitive oddities could easily be explained by emotional trauma, and indeed, the book seems intent on pushing that explanation for as long as possible – except that the prologue clearly spells out what’s actually going on. The entire first half of the book suffers from the same problem, and I lost count of how many times I thought ‘Hey, this would be really compelling if I didn’t know vastly more about what’s happening than any of the characters’.
I’m honestly not sure how much of the plot Martin thought people would be able to figure out in advance. As I said, the first half of the book is written as if it was supposed to fool readers into thinking they were dealing with a 1985-era story of a girl coming to terms with the loss of a parent, which would make it all the more surprising when the speculative elements start to come thick and fast. Only we know the book is actually about, at the very least, time travel and some sort of zombie-like biological outbreak, meaning that most readers will probably have to resist the urge to skip ahead in search of the ‘real’ plot.
When it finally arrives (a good 45% of the way in, according to my Kindle), it’s almost worth the wait. Freya learns that her recent past is mysteriously entwined with that of a boy who she recognizes on sight even though neither of them have ever met before. They go in search of answers together, with fairly disastrous consequences, and are forced to go on the run. This is the point at which the effects of the prologue start to wear off, because the characters stop trying to learn things the reader already knows and start trying to outrun their pursuers.
Alas, the book stumbles again when the full backstory is revealed in a gigantic infodump. I found myself skimming through this part of the book with an increasing sense of disbelief, certain that the exposition would finally end every time I turned the page. This isn’t even a case of Freya remembering her true life history and narrating it to the reader; for the most part, the infodump consists of an incredibly dry history lesson.
With that said, I’m still going to recommend Yesterday. It’s mature, well-written and possesses the kind of emotional depth that seems to be growing scarcer by the day in YA science fiction. Just do yourself a favor and skip the damn prologue.