Book Review: Across the Universe, by Beth Revis

“What does it take to survive
aboard a spaceship fueled by lies?”

Across the Universe is a dystopian science-fiction romance where nothing as it seems and the only person you can truly trust is yourself. Author Beth Revis has created a book both beautiful and horrifying, and amidst the stars and the confusing-yet-wonderful bloom of first love, you’ll find blood and horrors that tap directly into the subconscious and just know how to make you cringe.

The book is told from the first-person points-of-view of the two main characters. Amy, a cryogenically-frozen teenaged girl from ‘Sol-Earth’  who finds herself abruptly awoken fifty years early and thrown into a world so different from her own that she can’t even fathom how to adjust, and Elder, the ever-questioning heir to the Godspeed’s all-knowing dictator (Eldest).

Eldest is hiding something. Hiding a lot of somethings, actually. Elder’s absolutely positive of this. And since his father-figure and teacher won’t tell him a thing, Elder’s determined to find the truth on his own… And one such truth leads him to Amy and the other hundred-or-so Sol-Earth men and women frozen in a secret level on the bottom of the ship, cargo to be dethawed once they reach their destination: Centauri-Earth, the decided location of the first human colony outside of the solar system.

And Elder’s fascinated by her. In a ship where carefully-regulated breeding has rid the two-thousand residents of all racial differences, a pale girl with hair like a sunset is both foreign and beautiful to him.

Meanwhile, Amy’s wake-up call wasn’t an accident. In fact, if Elder hadn’t come along and rescued her, it would have been murder. It’s the first in a string of attempted (or even successful) murders on the Sol-Earth humans, two of which are are her parents, an important scientist and a high-up military man, and the reasons she came on board the Godspeed to begin with. And on top of that, Amy’s appearance and her way of thinking sets her apart from almost everyone on the ship… And Eldest doesn’t like that. “The first cause of discord is difference,” he tells Elder a number of times, and Eldest will do just about anything to keep discord off of his ship.

Side characters include Harley, a psych-ward friend of Elder’s who loves to paint and boost people’s spirits but has a few demons of his own, and Doc, the primary doctor on the Godspeed and an ally of Elder’s… At least, Elder’s pretty sure he is.

Across the Universe carries the readers through each page with many, many questions burning for answers. Can Amy find her place in this foreign steel-walled world? Can she learn to trust Elder, despite his connection to Eldest? Will Elder uncover the truth he seeks? And can the two of them find a way to stop the murders before it’s too late?

Ohhh boy, do I have a few things to say about this book. Good things. Nay, fantastic things.

I’ve been reading quite a few blog posts recently on the topic of planting intrigue throughout the book. Little shreds of evidence, or a clue to something, enough to drive you crazy wondering but never enough to truly know what’s going on until the grand reveal. And let me tell you, Across the Universe does this perfectly. (I had to bold it for good measure.) In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that Across the Universe is the perfect example of how to do it right. I was almost tempted to write a blog post entitled, “How To Plant Intrigue In Your Early Chapters (as demonstrated by Across the Universe)”. Reading it, you spend the majority of the book just as confused as Elder and Amy are, so whenever they make a breakthrough discovery, you find yourself just as shocked or appalled as they are… Possibly even shouting, “NO WAY!” and getting kicked out of the library. (Let’s pretend that’s not a true story, thanks.)

As I said near the beginning, Across the Universe is almost what I’d call ‘beautifully fractured’. The cover art is breathtakingly beautiful, and then you crack it open and the in the first five pages find yourself so immersed in the visceral detail of the cringe-worthy cryogenic freezing process that you have to swallow hard and remind yourself that it’s just a book. Then Revis paints you the picture of a perfect self-contained world, only to spend chapter after chapter revealing the bite behind the beauty. Harley, a secondary character, is an artist of astounding skill, but in truth he’s the most broken character in the entire book. This contrast between beauty and destruction makes Across the Universe both captivating and unsettling in the best possible way.

The only complaints I have is that many aspects of the story are very similar to other things I’ve seen or read. I’m almost positive it was unintentional, and it’s not nearly enough to detract from the book (although it did spoil a couple of well-crafted surprises a little early) but it’s enough to recognize. Throughout the book, such works as The City of Ember (Jeanne DuPrau), The Giver (Lois Lowry), the Remnants series (K.A. Applegate), and even Pixar’s “WALL-E” came strongly to mind, through elements of the plot or setting.

All in all, I’d definitely recommend Across the Universe to fellow readers, especially if you’re looking for a book that will take your senses and your clue-hunting prowess on a wild ride. I’ll be getting my hands on the sequel, A Million Suns, as soon as humanely possible. You can find Beth Revis here and Across the Universe on Amazon or even the public library. (I saw it at Costco a couple of months ago… Being a follower of Beth’s, I was ridiculously proud. But anyway, not the point.)


The “What Writers Can Learn From This” section is going to get a follow-up post of its own from now on, so the review isn’t so huge and so nobody gets any unintentional spoilers. That can be found here!


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