Wednesday, March 9, 2011

YA BOOK REVIEW: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

I should read more science fiction. In a lot of ways, it resembles historical fiction. At the most basic level, the reader is transported beyond this world to someplace exotic, more exciting than the one we inhabit. For the story to work, the author has to create a credible universe for the characters to inhabit. The sci-fi characters will use unfamiliar technology, wear odd clothes, eat strange foods, and live under socio-political conditions that differ from the here and now just as historical figures do. The only difference is whether we are re-imagining what did happen or envisioning what will happen. The reader gets to experience all this alongside the characters. But whether the story is set in the past or the future, the characters are often dealing with similar issues—big issues: good vs. evil, ambition, empire building, and love.

Across the Universe, Beth Revis’s debut novel, caught my attention from blurbs on several blogs. The premise intrigued me. Amy is a sixteen-year-old girl who agreed to be cryopreserved and sent on a 300-year journey to colonize a distant planet along with her parents. Unfortunately, she is prematurely awakened fifty years before the ship is supposed to land. Not only is she completely alone on this strange ship-world (everyone she knows is dead and she will be older than her parents when they finally do reach their destination) but she soon learns her awakening was no accident. Someone tried to kill her.

The ship is run by a tyrant called Eldest. Eldest believes tight control is necessary, and Amy threatens the stability he has worked hard to achieve. However, Amy is befriended by a sensitive boy named Elder who is heir to the commander’s role. As Elder learns more of the ship’s terrifying secrets, he has to decide if he will continue the course Eldest has chosen. Defying Eldest is, to put it mildly, not a safe choice. When more of the frozen passengers are thawed, with deadly results, Amy and Elder must work together to discover the murderer and prevent him from striking again.

Revis does a wonderful job of creating the ship-world. The reader will feel as trapped as Amy, first in her frozen, half-dream state and then on the artificial world. Her despair as she comes to grips with her situation is understandable. The book alternates point of view between Amy and Elder. Both characters mature as the plot progresses. Elder is the stronger and in some ways the more interesting of the two. He has a greater understanding of the complexities of the ship’s problems and as he realizes how much responsibility he will bear, he has to make difficult moral choices. Amy seemed less naive at the outset and her growth came more in the form of adaptation and acceptance. The book is not as much of a romance as I anticipated, but since I see that it has been numbered 1, I expect the love story to blossom in a book #2.

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