I picked up Across the Universe, Beth Revis’ debut novel, partly because I had gleaned bits and pieces of positive reviews here and there and partly because I had to fill 5 hours at the bookstore waiting for my boyfriend. Oh, and the cover. And the possibility of a young adult sci-fi novel excited me. Young adult literature really needs more sci-fi, now that it has fully picked up on the paranormal and the dystopian genre. In the end, Across the Universe ended up being a science fiction novel and a dystopian novel, with a bit of mystery thrown in for good measure. I must say that Revis juggled those three genres beautifully, building a world that was believable, claustrophobic and, at times, horrific.
Amy and her parents, as well as 97 other passengers, have been cryogenically frozen in preparation for a 300 year trip to a new planet, Centuri-Earth. But 50 years before the scheduled date of arrival of their ship, Godspeed, Amy is awakened. Knowing nothing of how or why, she can think of only one thing: someone tried to kill her. Her doubts are suddenly confirmed as more frozen people are awakened and, not as lucky as her, found dead in their thawed chambers. Elder is part of the crew that has been running Godspeed since the beginning of its journey. Generations upon generations of his people have worked and lived within the confines of the ships metal walls, each generation lead by one leader, Eldest, and Elder is the next leader in training. Once Amy awakens, Elder is fascinated by her, by her pale skin, red hair and green eyes, but most of all by all her ideas, her knowledge, her way of seeing things coming from a world that he has never known.
Together, and with the help of Elder’s friend Harley, they try to unravel the mystery of the people dying, while at the same time Amy tries to: understand a society that makes no sense to her, that feels wrong and controlling and full of lies; find a murderer; and cope with the fact that the next time she will see her parents she’ll be about 70 years old. And Elder starts to realize that everything he knows might be a lie, not knowing what is true, what is fabricated, what is wrong and what is right.
Across the Universe felt both slow-paced and fast-paced to me. I would come up for air, realize that I was half-way done with the book, but at the same time, wondering why not much had happened. It is because Revis trickles her clues and mysteries slowly through her story, little by little, not holding anything back, but not given away too much too fast until the very end of the book. Most of all though, it is the ship that retained my attention, the ship and the world that lives within it, this somewhat wrong and definitely dystopian world, completely cut off from anything else. The characters themselves were alright. I was not as attached to them as I would have liked, although I suspect that is just a personal taste, not a fault of the novel. I cared about them, but I cared more about seeing their world put right. The villain itself was a bit more one-dimensional, and slightly less believable, but nevertheless it did not distract me too much from the plot. Revis alternates between Amy’s and Elder’s first point-of-view and I thought it was done well, and it did not confuse me at all.
Overall I really enjoyed it, I am looking forward to the sequel (although, do not worry, it does not end on a cliffhanger) and, most of all, I hope that its success will bring more science fiction to the world of young adult literature.
EDIT: I feel that I must add a trigger warning. In the book there is a sexual assault/attempted rape scene. It is not a long scene and the effects of it are dealt with and are not ignored. I felt I had to mention it, as it could be triggering to victims of sexual assault and rape and the people who love them.