Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis (@bethrevis @PenguinTeen)

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.

My Thoughts:

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.

Multi-Author Event: Tricks and Treats

Back LtR: Ruta Sepetys, Stephanie Perkins, Sonia Gensler, Victoria Schwab, Myra McEntire, Beth Revis.
Front: Tessa Gratton, Kat Zhang
Photo Credit: Sarah at Breaking the Binding

This weekend, our friendly neighborhood indie bookstore, Parnassus Books, hosted a pretty fabulous event. I actually heard about it a few months back at C.J. Redwine‘s launch party for Defiancewhere Myra McEntire was in attendance and gave me and a few other book bloggers a heads-up that something big was in the works for the end of October. So of course, I promptly Twitter-stalked* Myra until she gave me a definite date and time to mark on my calendar.

Then I realized that not only was it scheduled on the same day that we were going to be coming back from visiting friends in Arkansas, but it was also on the same day as our church’s Fall Fest, which the kids had told us in no uncertain terms that we had to attend OR ELSE.

So what’s the solution? Obviously, it’s to leave Arkansas at 7 a.m., drive six hours, make a super-speedy stop at home to grab a book for the event that had been delivered from Amazon while we were gone (and to take a gander at the über-nasty vinyl flooring in our kitchen that the owner of our townhouse decided to replace our wood floor with while we were gone — SURPRISE!), and then for me to go to the author event while my husband** took both of the kids to go jump in bouncy castles and get their faces painted and eat lots of cotton candy.

This may seem extreme, but I think the lineup of authors excuses the crazy, crazy day that was Sunday. Here’s who was there:

Tessa Gratton, author of the Blood Journals series

Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe series

Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door

Victoria Schwab, author of The Near Witch and the upcoming The Archived

Myra McEntire, author of the Hourglass series

Sonia Gensler, author of The Revenant

Pretty impressive, right? And I wasn’t the only one who thought so. The place was pretty packed, and while I probably had one of the farthest drives to get there (I don’t think anyone topped 6 hours, but then again, I didn’t poll everyone because that would be weird), I had a scant 30-minute drive home, whereas many others had to traverse state lines after it was over.

So what actually happened during the event?

Well, first they gave us candy, which is ALWAYS a good way to begin an event. Always. And this doesn’t just apply to author events. I bet everything from school board meetings to sessions of Congress would be more pleasant if they opened by passing around buckets of candy.

I will attempt to recap the highlights of the event for you, but first, a warning. I normally take copious notes at these sorts of things, but I didn’t this time because I woke up at 6:00 and drove six hours that morning and my brain wasn’t entirely present. So I’m going to recap this from memory. If When I screw up the details, feel free to let me know.

Ghost/Spooky Stories/Weird Research Happenings

Sonia: She’s pretty sure her dad’s house is haunted, and when she was little, she thinks she may have trapped a ghost in a closet, thus demonstrating her mastery over it. It didn’t bother her after that.

Myra: She went to New Orleans to research Infinityglass, and after taking pictures of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar for inspiration, she looked at the photos and is pretty sure there are four ghosts in one of them. Of course, she didn’t bring the picture to show us, and so now I must bug her some more until she shows me.

Victoria: While living in London, she heard a story from a man who, while visiting an old house in some other country heard footsteps on the abandoned floor above him every night, like someone up there was having a party, but there was no one there. And when she got home to her house in London, she started hearing the same thing, except there was no abandoned floor above her. It was just the roof. (Others tried to convince her the footsteps were Santa, scouting the location, but she remained unconvinced).

Stephanie: Worked for a couple years in what she was pretty sure was a haunted library. She would hear bookish sounds like someone was moving books around while she was there alone, and came to find out that happened to all the librarians, with the same sounds coming from the same location, whenever they were alone in the library.

Beth: Didn’t have a ghost story, but once she took a group of students on a ghost tour of London, where the tour guide was being super-creepy and telling a story of a murderer who dismembered his victims and tied their body parts up in brown paper and string, and a student of hers broke into a hilariously inappropriate-yet-appropriate rendition of My Favorite Things.

Tessa: Also didn’t have a ghost story, but once upon a time she gave herself an impressive accidental cut with a kitchen knife, then instead of immediately bandaging it, she decided to do an impromptu experiment on whether or not vinegar really does slow coagulation. Using tupperware, because she is not crazy enough to pour vinegar onto her bleeding wound.

Where do they get inspiration?

Stephanie: Inspiration for Anna came in a dream, dramatically retold to us by her obliging husband, in which she saw Étienne St. Clair waiting for her on some steps in front of a white dome, and she knew she loved him and was in a boarding school, and he was American but with an English accent. She woke up and wrote it all down, and thus the book was born.

Beth: Wanted a murder mystery in a confined space with explosions, and her first idea of setting it on a cruise ship was hokey, so she put it in space.

Sonia: Had always been intrigued by 19th century boarding schools, and during a visit to one in Oklahoma, she got the idea for a story.

Myra: Wrote the first chapter of her book, and in asking herself why, at the end of the chapter, the man knows Emerson’s name, she eventually landed on her time travel theme after dismissing all the paranormal elements that she’d heard of before.

Victoria: In The Near Witch, she wanted to write a fairy tale where setting was as much a character as the people, and she also wanted to feature witches because she thinks they’re awesome archetypes.

Tessa: She settles on an emotional reaction she wants to elicit, then figures out what story would best accomplish that.

On the writing process:

This can really go all over the place. Some have a set process, some change it up. Some write linearly, some write scenes here and there. Some write a bit every day, some do nothing for days at a time then crank out 10,000 words in a flood of inspiration. Some crank out a first draft in a month, others take over a year. Basically, as long as the finished product is a book, there is no wrong way to write.

Also, if you want to make a career of writing, then just keep writing books. If the first one doesn’t sell, write another. And another. Beth Revis wrote 10 novels in 10 years before getting her publishing deal.

On the querying process:

Be professional, follow agents’ submission guidelines, and listen to the common querying advice that writers give on their blogs. As simple as that sounds, apparently those little things put you ahead of the pack.

On crossing genres:

None of them want to be put in a box, and several of them have other, unpublished novels in genres vastly different from what they’ve published. They just write what they’re interested in.

After the Q&A (during which local authors and event audience members Ruta Sepetys and Kat Zhang also weighed in a bit), the authors chatted, signed books, and were just generally fabulous. They also fangirled all over each other and traded copies of their own books for signing, which just drives home the point that authors are people and readers and fans too. It was fantastic to get to hang out with most of them, see some lovely blogger friends, and finally meet Sarah from Breaking the Binding (who drove 4 hours each way for the event), which was good considering she’s the one who gets subjected to the crazy randomness of my brain on a daily basis, and therefore it was about time that we actually meet.

So, once again, I leave you with the information that Nashville rocks and our authors are fabulous. And for those authors that aren’t Nashvillians (which was all of them except for Myra and Victoria), please come back, because we’re fun here.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go stare at my ugly kitchen floor some more and try to morph it into something acceptable using the powers of my mind.

*Not really. Okay, maybe a little.

** He’s the best ever.