Book Review: Yesterday by Felicia Yap

Book Cover - Yesterday by Felicia YapMemory is one of those themes that has always intrigued me. How does it shape who we are and construct who we become?  What happens when you can’t remember? Or when memory starts to work differently?

That’s what brought me to Yesterday by Felicia Yap, which can quickly be described as a less-extreme The Giver by Lois Lowry meets ABC’s Revenge!

This sci-fi mystery presents a world where people are divided not by race or sex, but by the amount of short term memory they have.

In Yap’s world, Monos retain one day of clear short-term memory after the age of eighteen, and Duos retain two days of short-term memory after the age of twenty-three. Each night, citizens of this world need to catalog the day’s experiences in their iDiarys, where they store carefully curated facts about themselves that they dedicate time to learning each morning.

But, the heart of this book is the murder of Sophia Alyssa Ayling, who claims to remember everything. We follow her vindictive journey to right a wrong that was done to her while also following Mark and Claire married, a married couple that gives the term mixed marriage a new meaning. What follows is a mix of political intrigue, and the science of memory as DC Hans Richardson races against the clock to solve this mystery.

Yesterday is a book that I want everyone to read and then come talk to me about. There are so many twists and turns, and even a few implications that I can’t discuss because I’ll give too much away.  

This book puts facts and memories a really unique perspective and does so in a way that is easily digestible but still left me thinking about what it would be like to live in this world where you can’t trust your experiences.

The idea of having only one day stored on your short-term memory really intrigued me. The idea is that to maintain a life, you have to carefully curate “facts” about yourself and dedicate a portion of your day to learning those facts so that they are stored in your long term memory.

When I first heard this, my impression was: if you’re carefully curating facts, then everything a person presents to the world is subjective depending on what they later choose to commit to long-term memory, and that’s really the basis for this novel. The text only spans a single day for a reason, otherwise several of the characters would lose their vivid short-term memories. (Although a part of me would have liked to see that!)

What I really liked about Yesterday was how Yap blends the sci-fi and thriller genre. As a world, the England that we see in Yesterday is not that different than our own. Apple has cornered the market, the lack of short-term memory caused Steve Jobs to invent the iDairy (which is much cheaper than the iPhone, but not nearly as tricked out), and privacy laws are strict.

Yap, also inserts relevant quotes from novels, magazine articles, and snippets of diary entries between each chapter to flesh out what it’s like to live in this “forgetful” world.

Within this world, she creates the ultimate nemesis, a woman who can remember everything that has ever happened to her since the age of twenty-three. In the first pages of the novel, I really liked how upfront Sophia is. She sounds really menacing, and I couldn’t wait to get to know her a little more. In so many ways she reminds me of Emily Thorne from Revenge in regards to her goals and ambitions, but she also reminds me of the main character in Lois Lowry’s The Giver, except the society is less extreme.

The thing is that while I found the premise initially intriguing, the further I got into this book I less I liked the characters. As things are revealed and we get to know them more, flaws come to the surface that makes you realize just how imperfect they are, but also, in turn, makes them more human.

Most of the issues that I had with the characters when I think about it, could be a result of just not having a reliable memory that can convert details and emotions into meaningful, and emotional, long term memories. In the back of my mind, I keep going to Inside Out when all the little emotions in Riley’s head are sorting their core memories. These adults haven’t formed anything beyond either the age of eighteen or twenty-three and that informs how they respond to situations. So relationships that seem cold, really aren’t, they just exist in emotional distance.

While the mystery of “who killed Sophia” kept the pages-turning I left Yesterdayasking myself more about how we develop as a human being, and what we need to learn from ourselves through everyday experiences, occurrences, and encounters.

What keeps me from rating this book at four stars are bits towards the end where I really wanted the characters to interact, but the dialogue was presented like a speech. In a book that has very few human connections, I thought that was a missed opportunity.

I also had more questions about the world in general after I put this book down! I wanted to know why eighteen and twenty-three? Don’t people develop at different rates and when you are talking about biology it doesn’t make sense that it would occur at eighteen and twenty-three on the nose like that. It’s similar to puberty in that way. I think there are more stories within this world for sure, and this one just scratches the surface.

Still, even without over analyzing, I did enjoy the read, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting some sci-fi in their murder mystery pile.


Yesterday by Felicia Yap is now available wherever books are sold! You can purchase a copy from Book Depository, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local independent bookseller

You can add Yesterday by Felicia Yap to your Goodreads list here


Published by Lauren Busser

Lauren Busser is a fiction writer and essayist. She is an associate editor at Tell-Tale TV, where she writes about all things tv. She has had fiction appear in five : 2 : one magazine’s #thesideshow and her nonfiction has appeared in Bitch Media and The Hartford Courant. You can find her talking about tv, film, and knitting on Twitter @LaurenBusser.

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