It’s getting close to Halloween time (many of you are probably of the opinion that it’s been Halloween time for a while now), and it’s feeling like the perfect time to talk about something scary. The book I have in mind is scary in kind of a non-traditional sense, but I think you’ll soon see why I picked it for a Halloween-y book review.
Across the Universe (unrelated to the Beatles song and the movie musical by the same name), is the first of a trilogy by YA author by Beth Revis. It’s one of those books that has been sitting on my shelf for an embarrassingly long time. When I bought it, I picked it up because it looked intriguing, and because I was (and still am) all about dystopian stories. I knew next to nothing about it, until last month, when it became the latest victim in my quest to finally conquer all my unread books. And holy crap, you guys…I didn’t have a clue what I was in for.
When Across the Universe was published, the young adult genre was full to bursting with dystopian novels, love triangles, and vampires (oh my!). But while ATU is most certainly a dystopian novel, it’s unlike any I’ve ever read. If you know me at all, you’ll know that’s saying a lot…I’ve read just about enough dystopian novels to be able to plot my own peaceful revolution by now. And despite the fact that ATU never reached the level of popularity that a lot of its counterparts have, it definitely stands out from the crowd.
As the story begins, we meet Amy Martin, a seventeen-year-old girl who seems pretty normal, by all accounts. That is, until we find out that she and her parents are about to be cryogenically frozen so that they can be packed onto Godspeed, the most massive, longest-traveling spaceship ever built. We learn that Earth is doomed to an unnamed fate, and that Godspeed has been sent forth in hopes that it will find a new home for humanity. The ship’s destination is Centauri-Earth, a habitable, Earth-like planet in the Alpha Centauri system, lightyears upon lightyears away. And so, Amy goes under, knowing that, three hundred years in the future, she and her parents will be awoken on Centauri-Earth, which they and the other frozen travelers will help to terraform.
Or at least, that’s what was supposed to happen. Instead, Amy is awoken fifty years too soon by an unknown person who, by all appearances, was trying to kill her, but instead succeeded only in violently awakening her from cryo.
Completely disoriented, Amy soon meets Elder, the leader-in-training of the ship. The two form an instant bond, and Elder attempts to calm Amy’s fears and help her become acquainted with the ship that will be her home for the next fifty-odd years. As Amy struggles to accept the fact that she will be older than her parents the next time she sees them, she learns more about the ship she’s stuck on — and soon realizes that the ship is full of drone-like workers living under the totalitarian rule of Eldest, the ship’s leader and Elder’s tutor. She learns that the inhabitants of the ship have been living this way for generations, with only the faint hope of the unknown home they travel toward to keep them (mostly) contentedly working.
As Amy and Elder’s friendship grows, the questions Amy asks and her “odd” ways of thinking act as a catalyst. Soon, Elder begins to question everything he’s ever been taught about what’s right, what’s true, and what the best way to lead really is. Amid this confusion, Amy and Elder must work fast to discover who pulled Amy out of cryo. Will Amy and Elder find out in time, or will the mysterious murderer go on to succeed where they failed with Amy?
Across the Universe is pretty up there in terms of the best sci-fi and dystopian novels I’ve had the good fortune to read. I totally love the concept — what’s better than a giant spaceship headed off to explore an entirely new planet, I ask you? And though some of the old tropes that tend to pepper these kinds of books do show up from time to time in ATU, it had a pretty original feel to me. In addition, the protagonists, while improbably attractive, generally steer clear of the Mary Sue pitfall. They manage to be pretty believable teenagers in the midst of an outlandish scenario, and they make lots of real, foolish mistakes that have real, far-reaching consequences.
So what’s the scary part, you ask? Well, this book may be great, but it is DARK, you guys. The book starts with an excruciatingly detailed description of exactly what it feels like to be cryogenically frozen and to experience cryosleep, and…let’s just say even the prospect of an amazing new planet and incredible adventures wouldn’t be enough temptation for me to be willing to go through what Amy did. Beyond that, I invite you to contemplate the prospect of living and dying inside the confines of cold metal walls, knowing that generations upon generations before you have done the same, and that even though you may live to see a new world, you’ll be near the end of your life by the time you do. Imagine knowing that your claustrophobic existence is at odds with the impossible vastness of space that lies outside; that you are hundreds of years away from any sentient beings other than those who are as utterly trapped as you are. If you can think about that without wanting to curl up in the fetal position for a while, well…you’re a stronger person than me, that’s for sure.
I would recommend Across the Universe to any die-hard sci-fi, dystopian, and/or young adult fan. It’s the perfect book to get you thinking while simultaneously scaring the ever-loving daylights out of you and making you want to run around outside and go hug a tree or five. It’s not for the faint of heart, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading it at the onset of Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder time (like I did…when will I ever learn, you guys??); however, it’ll take you down to the depths of what it means to be human, and will pull you right back up to the heights of what we’re capable of.
I’ve now read both ATU and the second book of the trilogy, A Million Suns — I absolutely cannot wait to read the conclusion, Shades of Earth, to find out what happens next! Have you read Across the Universe? Would you choose it for your next bone-chilling read? Sound off in the comments!
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