Across The Universe, Beth Revis’ debut book, is a fascinating journey through time and space. It begins on Earth, with Amy and her parents being cryogenically frozen to prepare for a 300-year journey to colonize a new earth-like planet. Except when Amy is unfrozen and wakes up, she’s told that they haven’t reached Centauri-Earth, and it’s only been 250 years since they left! The book is told from alternating points of view, switching between Amy and Elder, a teenage boy aboard Godspeed who is meant to be the future leader of the ship. Ever since the legendary Plague that decimated the population of the ship, it’s been run by a figurehead called Eldest (rather than on a military model, as it was before the Plague). But Elder soon discovers that everything is not as it seems and that Godspeed has a dark history. Why has Amy been woken up early, and what secrets are Eldest hiding from Elder?
One of the first things I noticed when reading this book is that Beth Revis is a geek, and that’s a good thing. She really cares about the scientific elements of her book – she has the cryo freezing process worked out in great detail, as well as all of the needs of a ship that’s going to be traveling for centuries. She even adds that one of the books Amy’s dad packed to bring with him was The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy! What could be more appropriate for a long space journey? One of my other favorite details was the Earth “history” that Elder’s learned on the ship, which has all been rewritten over the years: Hitler is described as a great leader and a hero, while Abraham Lincoln supposedly ended the Civil War by sending all the black people back to Africa. It’s really shocking and disconcerting, but these are the details that really tie together her mythology, and I love knowing that an author has really thought through the world their characters are living in.
The slow reveal of what is actually going on in the ship is very well done. I wasn’t able to guess it, even though lots of clues were dropped. And the truth is scary and disturbing, but you can also understand, even if you don’t agree, why the Eldests have done it. I don’t want to spoil the ending here, but it comes down to a choice between the truth or survival, and Elder has to step up and choose how he wants to run things.
Elder himself is an interesting character because when the book starts, he’s sort of selfish and unlikable. It’s not his fault; he’s ignorant because he’s been kept in the dark his whole life, and he thinks this is just the way things are. He becomes obsessed with Amy before she even wakes up, because she looks so different. After so long on the ship, everyone on board pretty much looks the same because they’ve been breeding with themselves. They all have light brown skin, dark hair, dark eyes, and similar facial features. But Amy has very fair skin, red hair, and green eyes, and Elder becomes enamored of her. (The fact that he saw her naked when she was frozen probably had something to do with it, too.) His feelings are very shallow, but by the end of the book you can tell he’s started to grow. I still think he’s not really “worthy” of Amy — he did something terrible to her, and he still hasn’t made enough of an effort to get to know her beyond her beauty. To my relief, they don’t really get together in a couple-y way at the end of the book, they’re more of a potential couple, which feels okay to me.
Amy herself is a great character. She’s kind of an average girl thrown into extraordinary circumstances, but not in a way where she’s sold short. Amy is smart and stubborn and I love her. One of the first things she says after being unfrozen and waking up is that she knows Elder was watching her sleep, and she finds that creepy. I loved that Revis made this obvious Twilight dig because, hey, anyone who thinks the relationships in that series are unheathy and creepy is probably going to write a romance I actually like. Amy starts to have some feelings for Elder as the book goes on, but she’s confused about what they are: her thoughts about Elder are often mixed up with thoughts about her boyfriend from Earth, plus Elder is the only person on board who is her age and one of the few who doesn’t treat her with disdain. It’s definitely a nuanced relationship, not twoo wuv, and that’s refreshing in a YA novel. I think I was expecting more schmoopy romance based on the blurbs that dubbed this book, “Titanic meets Brave New World”, so I was relieved to find this wasn’t the case.
I definitely want to recommend Across The Universe to science fiction fans, but I struggle to think of what other books I can compare it to. Space sci-fi is actually not so common these days, but I think it’s safe to say that if you liked Ender’s Game, The Martian Chronicles, 1984,or The Hunger Games, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s got cool space stuff (that’s the official scientific term), drugging of the population and re-writing of history, suspense, and just a little bit of romance.
Across The Universe is available in bookstores and libraries now. I recommend buying it in hardcover just for the awesome blueprint illustrations of Godspeed that are on the inside of the dust jacket. (I kept looking at them for reference while I was reading. I do love a book with maps and diagrams.)