Monday, December 5, 2011

"Across the Universe" by Beth Revis

Though I'd had this book on my radar for awhile, it was Revis' savvy marketing technique that finally drew me in--she convinced her publisher to include the names of every one of her early Facebook fans in the acknowledgements of the paperback version of the novel. And, since I was one of those fans, I couldn't resist buying the novel. Smart Revis, very smart.

I've not been very interested in YA this year, but I liked the premise of Across the Universe. Amy is cryogenically frozen, along with her parents, for a 300-year voyage in the spaceship Godspeed to a new planet Earth is hoping to colonize. However, she's woken up fifty years early and finds herself among the inhabitants of Godspeed, including its leader-in-training, Elder. With Elder, Amy tries to determine who's waking up individuals early and what secrets Eldest, the current leader, is keeping from his people. It's a neat premise, even if its execution didn't fully live up to it.

The setting and situation allow for a lot of questions to be explored. How would you maintain peace and happiness among people confined to such a small area of life? How would you maintain a population while avoiding overpopulation or genetic problems due to incest? I enjoyed exploring Revis' answers to these questions, even though their complexity is dampened by the stereotypical evil of Eldest. Early in the novel, he instructs Elder that one of the primary causes of discord is "difference," and since we all grew up with children's books about puppies and rabbits getting along, we know he's bad. By the time we learn he thinks Hitler was a good leader (Really? You don't think we got it?) and that another cause of discord is "independent thought" ("Evil, evil!" us independence-lovin' Americans shout), there's not a lot of hope for nuance.

Elder's lack of questioning about his history (e.g. he knows about classic American leaders like Abraham Lincoln but he doesn't wonder how many Eldests there have been or how long ago the Plague was) and the overly simplistic explanations for technology are also somewhat disappointing. Nonetheless, despite my issues with the world's construction, there are some good things. Revis has created an interesting mystery in a claustrophobic environment. The pace moves quickly, alternating between Amy and Elder, so the novel never feels boring. Not all the questions are addressed satisfactorily, but enough are answered to wrap up the book and leave an appealing opening for its sequel.

Across the Universe wasn't the novel to break my YA slump, but it was a quick and largely enjoyable read, so long as I didn't think about it too much afterwards.

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