Amy is frozen alongside her parents and placed as cargo upon the spaceship Godspeed. The journey is supposed to last 300 years, but when Amy is awakened 50 years early, she finds herself aboard a ship where life is very different from the one she’s known. The spaceship is run by a tyrannical dictator who has spun a web of lies to keep the ship’s inhabitants calm and complacent. When someone on the ship starts unplugging other frozen people on the ship and leaving them for dead, she realizes that her awakening wasn’t accidental, and she has to work to figure out who’s behind it before it’s too late.
Much has been made about the fact that true-blue science fiction is a rarity in the YA world these days, and that Beth Revis’s Across the Universe may exactly the cure for that dearth of genre fiction. Many people are fed up with the paranormal romances that crowd shelves these days, and are looking for other outlets to explore. In that way, Revis’s debut novel offers a fresher perspective, for sure. However, the final product isn’t quite as great as it could be.
The novel is told in alternating perspectives between Amy Martin, frozen-girl-wonder, and Elder, the future leader of the ship. Because Revis is a talented writer, she is able to pull off this gimmick. A less technically skilled writer would struggle with this narrative choice and the story would flounder as a result, but Revis keeps the pace moving along at a clip and the plotting is tight. It’s a long book, but most readers will devour it in large chunks (or even one sitting) because the suspense builds effectively enough to keep readers engaged.
Also worth mentioning is Revis’s ability to create a subtle world of horrors on the spaceship. Her slow unveiling of the seedy underbelly of the ship’s goings on builds tension and disgust within the reader, and it makes for a compelling story. Instead of pulling from other authors who have covered the dystopian genre, Revis manages to go deeper within her own story, carving out a space in the genre and creating a complex world where there are no easy answers. However, there are things that didn’t quite work for me, either.
The voices of Amy and Elder were well-developed, but Elder was the more interesting and complex of the two characters. Amy seemed a little too every-girl for me, and her blandness made her passages less interesting than Elder’s.
Not every part of the story gelled for me, either. There were some issues with characters and realistic actions. These moments required a suspension of belief, which I always have trouble swallowing, but I understand why Revis took the liberties she did in order to make the story compelling and exciting. The book is set to be part of a trilogy, and while I’m sure I’ll pick up the next volume, I don’t think I’ll be in a terrible rush to do so.
Across the Universe by Beth Revis. Razorbill: 2011. Library copy.