Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Title:  Across the Universe
Author:  Beth Revis 
Publisher:  Razorbill 
Genre: YA / sci-fi / dystopian
Hardcover: 398 pages
ISBN: 1595143971
Summary from Goodreads: 
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.
  • Overall rating: 8/10
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Beth Revis' Across the Universe is the first book in an intriguing dystopian sci-fi trilogy.  After spending two hundred fifty years cryogenically frozen on a spaceship bound for an uncharted planet, Amy is shocked when she is awakened fifty years before her parents are scheduled to be unfrozen.  At first, the prospect of not seeing her parents until she is nearly seventy seems like the worst of her problems.  But in addition to the nightmare of being trapped on a claustrophobic ship and the horror of discovering that many of the ship's inhabitants behave more like drones than humans, she soon learns that a killer is targeting the cryogenically frozen people and her parents may be among the next victims.  From the largely homogeneous and eerily obedient crew members to the ship's dictatorial leader, Amy finds herself very short on allies.  Thankfully, the young man who is next in line to lead the ship is intrigued by Amy, and he may be exactly the ally she needs to keep her parents alive and to figure out how the ship's population has gone in such a disturbing direction in the two hundred fifty years since it left Earth.  But Elder grew up on the ship, and what seems horrifying to Amy has always been described as normal and necessary to him.  Together they must unravel the truth and stop the killing before it is too late.

What I Liked:
-     This book is set on isolated ship hundreds of years away from Earth and some of its inhabitants have made difficult (and troubling) decisions regarding resource management, diversity, and personal freedom.  I was impressed by how disturbing and claustrophobic the atmosphere on the ship feels.
-     Half the chapters are from Amy's point of view and half are from Elder's point of view, which helped keep the tension high from start to finish.  This book is essentially a dystopian novel set aboard a spaceship, so being introduced to the world from two different perspectives, that of a character who is an outsider and that of a character who has only ever known life aboard the ship, really helps set the stage for the story.
-     Elder's friend Harley, an artist who is considered an oddity because of his creativity, is one of the most compelling characters in the book.  Elements of his situation reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and his outlook as the story progressed brought to mind some interesting questions about what life could have been like if things had progressed differently on Godspeed.
-     My favorite sci-fi novels (as well as my favorite dystopian novels) tackle ethical and political issues that are relevant right here on present-day Earth.  If the setting is well conceived and the story is compelling, great sci-fi and dystopian novels can encourage us to examine hot-button issues like genetic engineering and reproductive rights a bit more thoroughly.  I liked that Across the Universe didn't shy away from pushing some of those concepts to disturbingly plausible extremes.
-     There are some very unlikeable individuals on Godspeed, but some of their motivations held shades of gray, and I like villains who are painted in shades of gray.  They are much more frightening and believable.
-     There is plenty left to be explored in the next two books and the story is wide open for a million different possibilities, but this first book is also surprisingly conclusive.  I look forward to seeing where the rest of the trilogy will go.

What I Liked Less:
-     One of the primary mysteries in this story, the identity of the person unplugging the cryogenically frozen individuals, is too easy to deduce.  Thankfully, that is not the only twist in the story, so there are other surprises and deceptions to keep readers on their toes.
-     While I liked that Elder and Amy's story is not of the whirlwind-romance variety, I was hoping to feel more chemistry between them.  I respected and pitied them both, but I didn't really care whether their relationship ventured beyond friendship.  Perhaps the second book will change my mind about that.
-     I found the plot and setting a bit more compelling than the protagonists.  Amy and Elder both have to deal with some sad and traumatizing situations in this book, but I was more wrapped up in the plot than the characters, so I never found myself in tears.

I would recommend Across the Universe to fans of sci-fi and dystopian novels.  The story moves along at a fast clip, with short chapters and quite a bit of life-and-death drama, so it may also be a good pick for reluctant readers.  If you would like to learn more about Across the Universe or author Beth Revis, please visit her website, blog, facebook, or twitter.  Or check out the Across the Universe website where you can explore the ship and listen to an excerpt from the audiobook.

Read the first chapter of Across the Universe here!


Jenni Elyse said...

I completely agree with everything you've said, especially the "What I liked less" things. I'm excited to see what happens next, though. I think the series has great potential.

Candace said...

Great review! I think you said it all quite well. I especially didn't feel the chemistry between them. I'm also a little disappointed that she put in the part about everyone 'doing it' all over the place. I think that this could be a book my mom would enjoy other then a few things that are just TOO weird, like that. It makes it harder for me to recommend to people. But without it I'm not sure that the story could have shaped up to be what it became. So I don't know.

Variety said...

You've managed to explain how I felt about this book perfectly. What I find interesting is that usually, the books I love most are because of the characters, but this book I also love more for the plot. I still like the characters, but they weren't the deciding factor in this case.

Like Candace said, it might be a little hard to recommend to certain readers. But I really enjoyed it.

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