Across the Universe

Across the Universe - Beth Revis As many who frequent this blog and read my reviews know, I’m a little cynical when it comes to YA these days. I still really enjoy reading it and writing it (well, trying to write it) but after the project and general disappointment of the genre’s ways of business, quality of material and the like I was feeling somewhat jaded. While some things were grabbing my attention, nothing was really screaming out to me, telling me I had to read this or suffer the consequences. I don’t exactly fangirl over a lot of YA these days so you definitely know that when I say I loved this book I really mean it. I managed to get an advanced reader copy of the book from work (thank you, Waterstones!) and, while I’m something of a sci-fi novel novice, I was intrigued enough by the blurb to give it a go.Set sometime in the future, Amy agrees to join her parents on a space-ship heading towards a new planet for humans to inhabit, which involves being frozen from 300 years. The very first chapter opens with Amy’s decision to go through the horrific process of being frozen and it’s highly gripping stuff. She awakes 50 years too early thanks to some sabotage and finds herself on the Godspeed, under the care of Elder, the boy who will become leader of the ship one day. Unable to be re-frozen to join her parents for the remainder of their trip, Amy is left being the freak on a ship where something just isn’t right and strange goings on are afoot. I don’t want to go into things too much because the real joy in this book was discovering the fascinating but closed in and claustrophobic world Amy is forced to live in. After generations of space travel in a mini-city inside a vast space-ship where the stars are a myth and individuality is frowned upon, the Godspeed is a cold place where everything seems fake and following the one man in charge, the enigmatic Eldest, is accepted without thought. What really grabbed me about this world was Revis’s attention to detail; while the ship itself is of the most sophisticated technology, the people are simple and dress like Medieval peasants, simple things like reproduction must be heavily monitored for fear of incest and even the air they breathe is artificial and recycled over the generations. Some of the best descriptive scenes come from Amy’s time in the freezer, which perfectly encapsulate every claustrophobic fear and thoughts of loneliness one could have in that situation. It’s highly unsettling stuff. In fact, there is a deeply unsettling current running through the entire novel, which I found fascinating.At first I was worried that the characters of Amy and Elder, whom the narrative switches between, wouldn’t grab my attention. They seemed more like devices than characters, but luckily Revis proved me wrong and I found myself really interested and invested in them both. I could understand every decision they made – Amy is lonely, a complete fish out of water unused to this new world where everything she knew as normal just doesn’t exist anymore and people view her as a non-essential entity, and Elder is a boy with huge responsibilities on his shoulders, fascinated by this new and unique girl and battling with conflicting emotions over what is and is not the right thing to do for those he is responsible for. Consequences exist and terrible things will happen if they are not dealt with. I applaud Revis for not shying away from the difficult moments in the story. I was worried for a while that she would mess up a sensitive element in the story but she really pulled through with it. Revis handles issues like race, identity and sex in an interesting way and subverted a lot of my expectations. While the book is marketing itself on its romance (the ARC is calling this Titanic crossed with Avatar which is a bit unfair since it’s a lot more interesting and unique than Dances with Smurfs) I really don’t think this book is a romance. I don’t think what Amy and Elder share really even comes close to romance. It’s more about fascination and discovery than love; actually, the whole story is about discovery and what it means to be human, which is a whole lot more interesting than teen love, even teen love on a shape-ship! She did keep the interactions between Elder and Amy fresh and threw a few curveballs at the reader which I appreciated. I can honestly say I didn’t find a thing in this book predictable. Revis has managed to craft a really interesting, gripping story that throws a lot of questions at the reader about how you would handle things if you were in Amy and Elder’s positions. While I don’t think the book is perfect – the switches in narrative was an interesting choice I found very readable, I didn’t think Amy and Elder’s voices were distinct enough, especially in the beginning, and the mystery feels a bit rushed towards the end – I can only really nitpick. Everything feels very well thought out and, while it stands tall on its own, I heartily look forward to the remaining books in the trilogy. I am not a fan of the hype machine, especially in a genre where so much of it feels forced, but I’m calling it now; this will be big and it certainly deserves to be.4.5/5.