Review: Across the Universe

Oh dear, I feel terrible for not updating the blog regularly. It's been pure forgetfulness on my part. I'm once again in the bad habit of reading but not reviewing. Hopefully I'm not too rusty. :)

Book Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

My Opinion:

So I knew this book was going to be big the moment I saw Hunger Game references abound (it's the Hunger Games of space books! analysts shouted) and it's impeccably designed cover appeared in Costco. (Only the heavy hitters sell in non-bookstores.)

And Across the Universe certainly opens to a marvelous first chapter--the haunting description of Amy and her parents being frozen into a mummy-esque state for the next 300 years is completely engrossing. I had only to read the first page before I decided to buy Across the Universe. I think this:

"Mom wanted me to go first. I think it was because she was afraid that after they were constrained and frozen, I'd walk away, return to life rather than consign myself to that cold, clear box. But Daddy insisted."

Is perhaps one of the best YA paragraphs I've ever read--something to do with the rhythm, Amy's voice slicing clear through it.

Unfortunately, the book failed to live up to it's glorious first chapter.

Here's why:

1. The characters (not enough depth). POV consequently suffers because of this.

Across the Universe is narrated by a duo: Amy, the Earth girl, the one who opens and closes the book, the one who's the reader's friend, the one we can relate to. And then, Elder: oh, he's such a darling boy. I liked him as a character a lot, but seventeen years living in a screwed up, totalitarian society certainly leaves its mark.

At first, I liked Amy. She was relatable. But as the chapters progressed, I quickly grew bored with her narration. I began to question why she was even a POV in this book, other than to form a bridge with the reader, with her unlikely tales of a futuristic Earth (Yearbook staffer, check. Cross country runner, check. Boyfriend left behind? Check) that we can relate to oddly out of place and unrealistic*. And then, there's the very problem that Elder idolizes her so much--makes her seem more like an object, less human, by the very dint of this lionizing. Soon, I got the impression that Amy was only special because she's from Earth. This is her defining characteristic--she's an Earthling amongst a ship filled with crazed and confused people. Somehow, I want more out of a main character other than an ability to chirp about Earth-related activities and recognize that things are way weird on this ship--I can do that myself, thanks. Although, her determination to continue on without her parents is a show of strength.

Elder is sweet, for all his tendencies to back down (he's only been conditioned to do this from the day he was born! I want to shout at all his naysayers). And moving past his overwhelming tendency to view Amy as something he has control over, he's got good intentions. I really wish that the entirety of the book had been narrated from Elder's POV--I think it would have led to a much stronger novel, overall. But as such, I can only say I much preferred his chapters to Amy's--his relationship with the ship's leader Eldest is particularly intriguing, his knowledge of the ship, and struggle to understand betrayal and shake himself from an upbringing built on lies is the core of the book and where the themes are rooted.

Like I said, I felt Amy's POV to be unnecessary. Also, there's the problem that the voices were too similar--I'd read a few pages of Amy's narrative without realizing that it was actually Elder's. I suppose I shouldn't complain too much, because ranging from Shiver to Smack, I've always, always had issues with multi-POV books in that the voice is just too darn similar between each first-person narrator.

Ultimately, I felt that in Across the Universe, there are two halfway-there main characters (Elder & Amy) instead of one fully-fleshed out main character.

2. The hodgepodge genre-hopping, veering plot that is both it's downfall and defining characteristic.

At first, I think the promise of a combination of genres is what drew me to this book. Sci-fi (aboard a spaceship, no less) with a sharp dystopian hook, romance to boot, and a strong murder mystery underlying it all?

Definitely sounds like a must-read.

However, I think this confusion of elements is hard to navigate at the best of times, and Across the Universe quickly falls into some problematic areas. It starts off as a murder-mystery, but as Revis begins to describe the inner workings of the ship, the dystopian elements take over, once it's clear that this is a basically a functioning society, not a space opera. I think this is some of the reason I prefer Elder's narrative--it dealt with the dystopian elements in a way that Amy's couldn't--from the viewpoint of a character brought up in such a society and only now beginning to become disillusioned.

The dystopian elements are a bit predictable: throw in a 2-dimensional dictator with unsympathetic motives (I myself began to wonder if Eldest was truly as bad as the author wanted us to believe), a Giver-esque bag of goodies for the old people and control over occupations, and a Brave New World influenced spin on sex (here, dubbed the Season.)

The dynamics of such a small society (worry about incest and the like) was fascinating, though the Season was overwrought--much to much attention and pages focused on it, to the point where the plot suffered--and ultimately smacked of "mindlessness is bad" preaching.

3. The ending. It just plain threw me for a loop.

I felt cheated. Like, explain to me please how a character could keep something so inherently important to the plot such a secret from the reader for the whole space of the book? ELDER, WHY?


I thought the quiet despair of the book was just beautifully done. These people are trapped on a spaceship, in the middle of nowhere, and there is just no escaping the situation.

Basically, I loved that they were all hopelessly doomed, tehehe.

I thought the book was pretty well-written overall in terms of prose and there are some very lovely descriptions that have stayed with even after the last page--Amy's sunset hair, the stars, the mechanics of cyrogenics.

I think the plot was just difficult to execute and the characters could have been stronger. But I was content enough with Across the Universe--I fair sped through the book, read it all in one sitting. Though I don't know if it'll be the next Hunger Games, I think many a reader will be entertained, and I do hope it will do something for expanding the currently barren sci-fi genre (not counting dystopian books) in YA.

In short, a fairly decent book, and I will most likely be reading whatever Beth Revis writes next.

Rating: 7.5/10. Be aware that the first chapter is especially enticing. Across the Universe is definitely a library must-read, though I don't know about shelling out $18. However, its very popularity might merit a "read" label--don't want to miss out if everyone's talking about it. But like almost all bestsellers, its over-hyped.

Also, the cover over-emphasizes the romance element. Beautiful, but not an accurate representation of the book.

*If Earth is far enough in the future to have built a full-functioning spaceship and developed this much technology, I very much doubt the culture would be even remotely similar to what we're living today. I mean, that's like the difference between the 1800's and now. Hardly similar. Thus, my problem with Amy's tales of Earth that could have been describing early 21st century Earth. This was something that continually bothered me throughout the book and made me question the validity of the world-building. Oh, well--I guess it could be argued that the information given was vague enough to be interpreted any which way.