I became interested in reading C.K. Kelly Martin's Yesterday after reading a joint review by Presenting Lenore and Galleysmith. When a copy of the book showed up on my doorstep, I moved it up high on my stack (despite what I personally thought was a rather unappealing cover). And I'm glad that I did. I found Yesterday fascinating on multiple levels. It's a bit difficult to describe and review without spoilers, but I shall do my best.
Yesterday begins with a brief, 6-page prologue set in a the future. The first-person narrator, Freya, is trapped in a forcefield-protected room, traumatized by something that's happened to her brother, Latham. Then the SecRos, humanoid robots, come for Freya and her mother, on her father's orders. She loses consciousness.
The next thing the reader knows, Freya is a teenager living in 1985, mourning the tragic death of her diplomat father in Australia. She has just moved with her mother and younger sister to the Toronto suburbs, and is nervous about starting a new school. She remembers her 1970's childhood, and a seems to know the things that are expected to her. But something is off for Freya. She feels disconnected with her own life. And when she sees a boy on the street who she is sure she knows, and knows well, even though she can't remember him, Freya is off on a dangerous quest to understand her past, and her future.
The prologue leaves the reader with a suspicion about what must be happening, but things don't really become clear until later in the book. For a while, it's almost just a story of a girl adjusting to a new school, making friends, and meeting boys. This makes Yesterday an unusual mix of 1980's John Hughes novel and bleak dystopia, liberally sprinkled with a 1980's new wave soundtrack. As a dystopia aficionado who was in high school in the 1980's, this mix is irresistible.
Yesterday is the kind of book that you wonder about every time you put it down. How did Freya get to 1985 Toronto? Why did someone send her there? And lots more. The last part of the book, when many of the secrets become clear, is thought-provoking and suspenseful. There is a pretty strong environmental message to Yesterday, but for the most part, the message doesn't overwhelm the story. It certainly makes a person think about global warming and such.
C.K. Kelly Martin's writing is clear and to the point. Yesterday isn't full of flag-worthy, lyrical passages (as was Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys). But that's ok. It's like the writing stays out of the way of the story, if that makes any sense. Freya's first-person, present-tense voice is realistic, in the use of contractions, etc., but without any dialect or particularly distinctive voice patterns. Like this:
"The dark-haired boy haunts me in the car trip with my grandfather and once we're home he haunts me throughout my mom's rant about the school being neglectful and irresponsible in abandoning me at the museum. When my mother says she'll call tomorrow and let them know leaving me in Toronto to fend for myself was totally unacceptable, I don't argue." (Page 54)
Freya's voice feels neither strongly 80's to me nor strongly futuristic, which allows the reader to stay focused on the action, without distraction. And there is plenty of action to be found. Just as a note for librarians, there is also some fairly detailed, almost-sex in the book. It's probably better at the high school than the middle school level.
Overall, I found Yesterday to be compelling and thought-provoking. I spent my weekend snatching moments during which I could read it. I quite liked the ending, and continue to ponder some of the questions raised by the book. I recommend Yesterday for dystopia fans of all ages (14 and up), but it offers a special treat for those who came of age in the 1980's (or just love first wave music). Although Yesterday is (apparently) a standalone novel, I kind of wish that it was the start of a series, so that I could visit Freya's world again.
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).