This is a review for an ARC I received from the publisher after requesting it.
My memory is going because I can’t remember the first blog that introduced me to this book. I might be Presenting Lenore when she had her Dystopian week. She highlighted Across the Universe as a dystopian YA book to look out for in this post, and she included a link to the excerpt of the first chapter. I know that reading the excerpt is what sold me, although I do admit that the pretty cover also helped (I am a sucker for a starry backdrop).
The Premise: From the blurb: “Amy is a cryogenically frozen passenger aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed. She expects to wake up 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: Across the Universe is about 400 pages long but it feels much less because of short alternating chapters written from Amy and Elder’s points of view, which is combined with a fast-paced plot. The story starts with a bang: Amy narrates the terrifying feeling of being frozen in preparation to join her parents on a 300 year journey across space to the planet Alpha Centauri. While Amy and her parents sleep along with other scientists and military personnel needed after the ship lands, a crew maintains the ship through generations. 250 years later, sixteen year old Elder is learning how to be the next leader of the ship under the supervision of his mentor, Eldest, and running into problems due to his ignorance of the ship. Improbably, the two teens meet. Through some accident or act of chaos, Amy is thawed 50 years ahead of schedule, almost dying in the process, and she has to adapt to a very different world than she is used to.
Life on the vast spaceship is fascinating. There are three levels: Keeper, Shipper, and Feeder, which correspond to the three types of people who live and work on it. Elder and Eldest are the Keepers, with access to all levels, Shippers work on the Shipper level where the research labs and the bridge are, but live on the Feeder level where a collection of small trailers house most of the ships residents. The Feeders are only allowed on the Feeder level where they farm and produce day-to-day products like textiles. All the lives are strictly regimented and controlled by Eldest, but his vicelike grip on the Godspeed begins to raise questions in Amy and Elder’s minds. Elder realizes that his education has glaring holes in it, and Amy sees a society with a disturbing lack of soul and a too-easy acceptance of authority. The only people who don’t seem mindless are those in the mental ward. The more time Amy spends on the ship, the more she and Elder realize that things on Godspeed are not right. All the while, some murderer is killing people in the cryo-chambers by turning them off so they are thawed improperly and die in agony.
All this is well and good. There’s a sense of urgency in the writing and an invitation to keep flipping pages to see the big picture, but at tlmes I felt like the focus on the twists came at the expense of introspection. The book brings up a lot of questions about right and wrong when survival in an enclosed environment is at stake. Eldest and those before him made certain choices that made sense to them at the time. When Elder and Amy find out about those decisions, instead of delving into their motivations and whether they had any merit, the book misses an opportunity in my opinion by making a provocative topic overly simplistic. Some of the big reveals were things I could easily guess, enough for me to feel impatient with the characters in not figuring things out earlier, so I wish that the space for these predictable puzzles was used instead on what science fiction does best: make the reader think. Across the Universe begins to take us there, but then abruptly does an about face, leaving me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. To top it off, I keep having moments of “but what about _____?” after finishing this book — several inconsistencies never explained. I’ve read online that Across the Universe is the first in a series, and maybe what seems inconsistent now will be fixed later, but I have a feeling it won’t be.
The book cover and the blurb suggest that this book has a certain amount of romance in it. It is there, but it is extremely low key and for the most part platonic with the suggestion that in time there will be more.
Overall: This is a really promising debut — science fiction, dystopia, a fast paced plot and really interesting world building. These are all good things and for that alone, I’d recommend the book, but it didn’t quite hit the mark in terms of substance — there was more focus on grabbing the readers attention through plot twists than on really making the reader think. It skirts this territory, then scurries off, and that doesn’t really satisfy my science fiction reader sensibilities.
Calico Reaction – Buy the Paperback
Steph Su Reads – 4/5
La Femme Readers – 5/5
Fantastic Book Review – 5/5
Ellz Readz – positive review
Debbie’s World of Books – positive review
One Librarian’s Book reviews – 5/5
Book Reviews by Jess / The Cozy Reader – A