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Across the Universe Paperback – November 29, 2011
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Preview the Spacecraft in Across the Universe
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In Across the Universe, Godspeed is a vast spaceship, the size of a small county. The lives of its passengers are severely regulated. And people are divided into three categories--Feeders, Shippers, and Keepers--represented by the three levels of the ship.
From School Library Journal
Top Customer Reviews
The tag on the cover hints that the book should be cataloged under 'thriller,' while the cover itself, a boy and a girl a breath away from kissing, suggests YA romance. In truth, this book is neither. The premise is solid: Amy is frozen with her parents for the maiden voyage of the Godspeed, a vast spaceship flying across space to reach a new planet, only glimpsed from afar. The earth is somehow doomed, so the Financial Resource Exchange (a conglomeration that governs the world in lieu of countries) is sending military and scientific personnel to the new world on a chance that it could be made livable and safe. While the elite colonists sleep, a 'crew' of 2500 settlers will be born, work, and die for 300 years as the ship sails through space. Amy, however, is mysteriously woken up 50 years ahead of schedule, nearly dying in the process. Everything has changed: the people are monoethnic, there is no free will, and difference has been eliminated. The people have given up all control to a governing system of an Eldest and an Elder, the two oldest people of their respective generations on the ship, and go about their lives in a mindless stupor, interrupted only by 'mating season,' the one time in a generation the people go into an animalistic sex craze to create the next generation. The only people who act 'normal' are the inmates of the mental ward, where Elder lives. But when Amy comes among them, the regular workings of Godspeed are thrown into disarray.
So far so good. Amy's sinister awakening is reminiscent of the creepier moments of Event Horizon or Sunshine. The ship itself, humanity's struggle to survive in isolation in a metal can careening through space, and the issues of tyranny and freedom in extreme circumstances smack of the better seasons of Battlestar Galactica. More people are unfrozen, murdered, by an unseen enemy. Amy is befriended by Elder, a young man being trained by Eldest to rule the ship, and his friend Harley, a 'mad' artist from the mental ward. Elder, already expressing dissent about Eldest's autocratic regime and the lengths to which he goes to manipulate the people into obedience, learns through Amy's difference and knowledge that much of what he thought he knew is a lie - Eldest has been manipulating him along with the people of the ship. Together the two of them work to overthrow Eldest and find out who is murdering the frozen colonists.
The murder plot quickly falls to the background and the main 'dystopian' plot kicks in. Eldest is evil, his regime is oppressive, and he is keeping the kids apart. Clearly, he must be stopped. Or so the book would have you believe. The author raises some very difficult issues: how does one effectively rule a society on whom the fate of humankind depends? Is it right to sacrifice the lives and happiness of the few to save the many? Is rigid control necessary for order? If humans must be so cruelly manipulated just to keep them from destroying each other, is humanity really worth saving? Is it better to live a pleasant lie or a bitter truth?
Unfortunately, most of these questions go unanswered, or are answered simplistically. Amy and Elder decide that Eldest's methods are too cruel, and he must be stopped. They then set about sabotaging the complex system of controls Eldest has imposed on the ship as the book races to its uneven conclusion.
Elder's desire to overthrow Eldest is sparked by his juvenile attraction to Amy. Amy is motivated by her idealistic belief in black and white "TRUTHS" and "LIES" and her longing for earth as it was before she left. When Eldest threatens to toss Amy out an airlock for being a potential disruption of the ship and is at another point likened to Hitler we are meant to hate him. He's a blocking character for the romance between the protagonists. He does cruel, controlling things. But the author gives far too little attention to *why* Eldest rules the way he does. When we get a major plot twist late in the novel, it will become clear to most adult readers why this oppressive regime was created and why it perhaps shouldn't be tampered with so recklessly. There are many highly complex and difficult issues of rebellion, authority,and control involved, all of which are bulldozed so that there can be a final showdown between 'good' and 'evil'.
What I found oddly inconsistent, however, were the last few chapters. After all of the heavy-handed rhetoric about 'truth' and 'lies' for the majority of the book, some characters express doubt about their actions, and we learn who the initial saboteur was. I wanted to learn more about what was now motivating the characters, why they had second thoughts, and where those thoughts might lead. The ending felt abrupt and forced. I had thought the book was a stand-alone, but now I wonder if the author has a sequel in the works to tie up the many loose ends. If she can engage with some of the deeper questions and moral issues she has raised in 'Across the Universe,' I think I would enjoy that book.
And then there was the mating season. Is this book written for kids? Because detailing page after page of graphic, animalistic sex, where people are so focused on the act that they can't separate from each other to help a main character who is on the verge of being graphically gang raped right beside them--I was horrified that the author would put such detail into a young adult book. A brief mention of the Mating Season is all she needed to get her point across, yet she hits the reader over the head with it over and over. The irony is she won't write the "F" word. It was done in bad taste.
Overall, I have to say: this book is not appropriate for teens. At all.
The spaceship Godspeed is massive. So massive, it's a feat of the mind to imagine the whole thing, complete with pastures of grazing cows, a city meant to hold thousands, and any number of nooks and special rooms designed for keeping secrets -- for centuries. And yet, even at that phenomenal size, the oppressiveness is tangible. Beth Revis does an incredible job conveying the scope of the ship, dwarfed by the infinite darkness of space just beyond the rigid walls. There's a scene where Amy goes for a run, and comes up against the edge of the ship -- there's no place to run, she realizes.
Adding to the oppressiveness is the sense of time, and even time travel, as Amy wakes to a world that's long forgotten her and everyone she remembers. All alone in this enclosed fragment of the future, she would give anything to go back, but that time is hundreds of years past. It's utterly chilling. And all the awaits her is another future even more alien than this, on a mystery planet said to support life -- but exactly what type, nobody could verify.
Elder, who voices half the chapters, is a compelling character, easy to fall for. I did wish for more one-on-one scenes between him and Amy to further progress their romance. (no, not in THAT way!) It was a great choice on the author's part to alternate between a girl new to Godspeed's world and a boy who's never known anything beyond it, not even a glimpse of the stars. Eldest, the leader of the ship, was a frightening villain, though less so than the impossible weight of time and space, draping Amy, Elder and the ship in a cosmic, endless shroud.
With a number of surprises including a second-act twist that sent me reeling, Across the Universe is poised to rock the YA world, and it absolutely lives up to that promise. I can't wait to read the second Across the Universe book, and any others Beth Revis writes.
~YA Highway, yahighway (dot) com