I’ve had Across the Universe by Beth Revis sitting on my shelf for months, because a murder mystery on a spaceship sounds like pretty much the best thing ever. But I got bogged down in life and review books and burnout, so it just sat there, unread. I even went to an author panel with Beth Revis (who is delightful, BTW) and got it signed, but still hadn’t read it. However, listening to her talk about her books made me even more excited to pick it up. So finally, over the holidays when I decided to re-embrace pleasure reading, I cracked it open.
The Plot (from Goodreads):
Amy is a cryogenically frozen passenger aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed. She expects to awaken on a new planet, 300 years in the future. But fifty years before Godspeed‘s scheduled landing, Amy’s cryo chamber is unplugged, and she is nearly killed.
Now, Amy is caught inside an enclosed world where nothing makes sense.Godspeed‘s passengers have forfeited all control to Eldest, a tyrannical and frightening leader, and Elder, his rebellious and brilliant teenage heir.
Amy desperately wants to trust Elder. But should she? All she knows is that she must race to unlock Godspeed‘s hidden secrets before whoever woke her tries to kill again.
I haven’t actually read a lot of YA that was purely sci-fi. Everything has been dystopian with sci-fi elements, or fantasy with sci-fi elements. So I was excited for this book, which takes place in a more realistic near-future, where the technology is advanced, but not so advanced that it’s almost magical. And from the first few pages describing Amy’s internal conflict as she undergoes the (cringe-inducingly painful) cryogenic freezing process, I was swept up in this book.
Across the Universe alternates narrators between Amy and Elder, and at first it took me a little while to get used to Elder’s POV, because he’s just so different from Amy. He’s been raised on a mono-ethnic society where everyone fills the role they were born into, and nothing more. He doesn’t question that most people are confined to one area of the ship. He doesn’t wonder about Eldest’s harsh treatment of anyone who might be a bit different. He’s been raised to lead his society, and it seems perfectly reasonable to him when Eldest insists that Hitler had it right. But at the same time, Elder is lonely. He longs for connection, for understanding. And he’s curious, even though he’s not supposed to be. He wants to understand everything about this ship he’s supposed to run, even though he’s been told it’s not necessary. And by grasping those few threads, he slowly became a character I could relate to, in spite of his differences.
Amy almost acts as the voice of the reader, since she comes from a world very much like ours and wakes up in one very much not like ours. She questions the society that has evolved on the Godspeed, she questions the leadership of Eldest, she questions the way Elder has been conditioned to a different set of moral standards than what she believes. She’s a bit of a reluctant heroine in the story, as she wasn’t even sure she wanted to go on this mission, and definitely didn’t want to be awakened early. Her slow acceptance of her unfortunate circumstance almost mirrors the stages of grief (in many ways, she is grieving), and her progression through the story was fascinating.
I’ve heard some people disappointed that there wasn’t much of a romance in Across the Universe. I wasn’t really in this group, because I was more intrigued by the mystery element (AND THE SPACESHIP) than the potential romance. But if you are among the group hoping for an epic space love story, prepare to alter your expectations. While there are hints of romance, they are not the main focus or driver of this story.
As far as the mystery element of the story, Across the Universe kept me guessing. It dropped just enough clues that the ending was surprising, but satisfying. And I appreciated that once the truth comes out, it’s all in shades of gray. The villains are not purely evil (maybe a bit sociopathic, but not evil). The good guys are not purely good. Everyone involved in the murders and their resolution had motivations that, viewed the right way, were justifiable. (No, the murders themselves were not justifiable, but the reasons behind them were, to a degree, understandable). I’m all about nuanced villains and heroes, and I thought Across the Universe delivered both in spades.
Across the Universe was an imaginative and thoughtful story, with a fabulous space setting and complex characters. The ending tied up the murder mystery, but left the bigger question of the fate of the Godspeed open, which is what I assume is explored in the sequels, A Million Suns and Shades of Earth. I’ll be excited to pick them up and find out what happens to Amy, Elder, and the rest of the people on the ship.