Beth Revis Across the Universe
416 pp. Razorbill (Penguin Group). 2011 ISBN: 978-1-59514-397-6
Full Disclosure: Received ARC at NCTE 2010
Book Release: 1/11/2011
Summary (From the publisher): “A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder. Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules. Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next. Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.”
When I saw Across the Universe sitting in the Penguin booth at NCTE I was beyond giddy. I’ve heard wonderful things about this debut, and I continue to hear/read wonderful reviews. Overall I enjoyed it, but it didn’t measure up to my expectations. Because I’m having a hard time with this review, I’m going to set it up differently. I’m going to first focus on what worked for me and then what didn’t work for me.
What Worked for Me:
First of all, I love the idea behind this novel. In the beginning of the ARC (I’m not sure if it’s in the published copy), Beth Revis states that she wrote this with the school district she taught for in mind. Many of her students had never left the district and many of her students had dreams of leaving the district; they were still trapped, like the people on the ship. I also teach in a small district with similar students, so I could relate to this. Not everyone aboard Godspeed is aware of how claustrophobic it is, but the reader is certainly aware of this. Beth did a fantastic job creating the setting and the sense of not having any space. I also enjoyed reading the story from both Amy and Elder’s perspectives. Amy is new to the ship and only knows Earth and its ways. Elder was born on the ship and hasn’t felt a need to really question much about his life. All of this changes when the two meet because Amy instantly notices the strange rules, customs and behaviors. Because Amy and Elder grow close, Elder in turn also notices these things and begins questioning Eldest and Godspeed for the very first time. It’s a wonderful way to heighten the story.
Another plus, which goes along with both points I just mentioned, is that I know my students will enjoy reading Across the Universe. When I book talk this with them I’m going to read the letter at the beginning of the book to hear my students’ reactions. I’m sure it will also gain their interest. The first chapter, which is from Amy’s point-of-view, is a great way to hook readers. It goes through the process of being cryogenically frozen–way fun to read! I’m happy with the double perspective because this book will appeal to both my male and female readers, which is always a plus in my world 🙂 My students will enjoy the numerous secrets and their truths, the fact that it’s set in the future, etc.
What Didn’t Work for Me:
Whenever I read a piece of YA, I’m always focusing on the characters. While I enjoyed reading both Amy and Elder, I didn’t feel that either of them really grew as characters. Amy wasn’t really any different at the end of the book than she was at the beginning of the book. She came to grips about her parents and being alone, but that was about it. Elder changed a bit himself as he tried to grow into a leader. I just wish both characters had been fleshed out a bit more. Along with that, the tagline mentions this as a story of love, but I never felt Amy and Elder’s love grow. They had a moment in the middle of the book, and Elder often spoke of her beauty and his feelings. Honestly, I thought Amy and Harley’s relationship developed more than Amy and Elder’s.
Across the Universe doesn’t contain any profanity, at least not any current profanity. **Note- I am not saying that I want profanity in books** Elder “swears” by using words like “frexing”. I don’t know if these words were created because the English language has evolved or because the author, as a teacher, doesn’t like the idea of swear words in a book. I can appreciate it if the language has evolved, but in the dialogue, nothing else has changed. This leads me to believe that the words are used to allow characters to swear without actually doing so. Teenagers swear. So if you want your character to be a normal teen that swears, then have him swear. I don’t know if teens reading this will notice and be bothered by it, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.
I know this is a mixed-review, but I hope it will be read for both the positives I’ve included AND the constructive criticism. Like I said, I enjoyed the story and I know my students will also, which is most important.