Book Review

Across the Universe by Beth Revis: A Guest Review by Carrie S

A-

Title: Across the Universe
Author: Beth Revis
Publication Info: Penguin 2011
ISBN: 978-1595143976
Genre: Young Adult

Across the UniverseHello Geeks, it is time once again for my monthly review of something geeky and romantic. 

This month I read Across the Universe, to determine whether or not it is a Romance Novel, capital R, capital N, by which I mean a story in which the love story is the main focus and a happy ever after is reached.  I was drawn to this novel for two reasons.  First, it’s a fairly new release that got a lot of buzz when it came out in January of this year.  Second, it just screams “Teen Angst Romance”.  The front cover has a dreamy picture of two people almost kissing, backlit against a background of pink and purple stars.  The back cover has two characters verbally swooning all over each other.  If, being a total scumbag cheater like myself, you peek at the end (DON”T DO IT!)  It looks like there is a HEA.  So, this is clearly being sold as a novel of Teen Angst Romance. 

But, (and this is really cool, BTW) the reverse side of the book jacket has a blueprint of a spaceship and no pink in sight.  I felt it was my sacred duty as a geek to tell you readers whether or not this book is really the perfect vanilla chocolate swirl frozen yogurt of hard sci fi and romance.  Short answer – it isn’t.  It’s a good book, absolutely deserving of an A- on it’s own terms.  I highly recommend it.  But I can’t assign it a grade as a “Romance Novel” because it isn’t one, although it is a tentative love story – something of a prelude to a romance.  Mild spoilers ahead.

    In brief, the plot concerns Amy, a teenage girl who was cryogenically frozen as one of the colonists for a new planet.  An unknown assailant wakes her up before the planet is reached, almost killing her in the process, and thus making my frozen yogurt metaphor rather ill chosen.  Amy finds herself trapped on the spaceship, which has been in space for hundreds of years and developed its own society, led by a despot named Eldest.  Her ally is Elder, a teenage boy who is being groomed to succeed Eldest, and who is fascinated by Amy.  The book is told in first person, present tense point of view, alternating between Elder and Amy (more on that later).   

Turns out, this book is absolutely not a Romance Novel.  The cover lies, Dear Bitches.  But, it is a fabulous science fiction novel with strong romantic elements.  Many reviewers have expressed frustration with the book because they expect a Romance Novel, and it fails on those terms.  Hey, marketers who designed the swoony cover, whose fault is it that your readers expect a Romance Novel?  Oh right – you guys.  But, leaving the marketers aside, readers who fault the love story are missing the point.  (Spoilers ahoy)

 

The point is that Elder is NOT in love with Amy.  He doesn’t know her.  He doesn’t understand her or even empathize with her much, because he has no frame of reference.  He doesn’t even understand the concept of romantic love, since in his world reproduction happens in strictly regulated cycles and pairs rarely form.  Amy is just new, in a world where nothing is new.  Elder is curious and slightly obsessed and very attracted, but for most of the book he lacks the capacity and maturity to be in love.  Likewise, Amy is not in love with Elder.  Amy isn’t worried about her love life; she’s worried about her survival, and the survival of her frozen parents.  For most of the book, she is able to form far closer emotional ties to some of the supporting characters than to Elder.  Elder is an afterthought, someone with whom she is loosely allied, but can’t trust.

 

   

That’s not to say that interesting things don’t take place between Amy and Elder.  They push each other into growth without meaning to.  At the start of the book, Elder is teetering on the brink of becoming his own person.  Amy’s presence forces him to choose his role on the spaceship – is he a leader, or a pawn?  Amy has her own changes to face.  She becomes increasingly aware that she can’t get off the ship.  There is nowhere to go.  Amy, even more than Elder, has to decide what role she will play in her new life.  Above all, the two characters, especially Elder, have to grapple with moral choices, especially that of telling the truth even when it’s hurtful, as opposed to letting people live in ignorant bliss.  I cannot praise this book highly enough for how it handled this dilemma.  There are no easy answers, and no platitudes.  I really admired how painfully and realistically the author tackled this as the characters struggle with the merits and potentially disastrous consequences of telling the truth to their whole society and to each other.   

Other things to praise include the wonderful world building, the layers of mystery and deception, the supporting characters, and the vivid descriptions.  The opening scene of Amy and her family being prepared for hibernation, and subsequent scenes of her dreaming/waking state during hibernation, are absolutely horrifying.  Some of the most horrifying moments are the most understated, as when characters responds to events that Amy considers to be appalling with nothing more than boredom.   

BTW, if you are looking for the hot sexxoring, you’re in the wrong book.  There’s one moment of smooching in the rain, but that’s it.  On the other hand there is a graphic near rape, not to mention the freezing sequence.  So this is not the place to go for erotica.  I also realize that first person narrative is a turn off for many people, especially present tense first person narrative, but I think the author pulled it off well.  So even if it’s not your preferred style, if the book sounds intriguing otherwise, give it a shot.  I’m often irritated by that technique but in this case it gave the narrative a huge sense of urgency, and explained a lot about the motives of the protagonists.   

Warning – this paragraph is a bit spoilery even though I’m trying to stay non-specific.  Feel free to skip.  Oh, and when you’re reading the book, no peeking ahead or you’ll be sorry (Mwa ha ha). OK, now that you’ve been warned, HERE GOES –  SPOILERS AHEAD:

 

I know I keep saying that Across the Universe is not a Romance Novel.  I say that because the characters lack a real relationship for most of the book, and because I felt like the happiness or sadness of the story, especially Amy’s part of the story, didn’t depend on the romantic resolution.  However, the book does ultimately become a very tentative, delicate, well-drawn love story.  At the end, there is no swooping Happily Ever After.  Frankly, if there were, it would be creepy.  Instead, a massive gesture of courage is answered with the teeniest hint of trust and hope.

 

 

I felt like I was reading the prelude to a love story as opposed to the Main Event.  I loved the prelude and how it came together, no pun intended, and I hope Revis will write a sequel in which we can see Amy and Elder form a romance as two people who actually know each other as opposed to two people who see each other in idealized or strategic terms.   


Across the Universe is available at Amazon in print and digital, at BN.com in print and digital, at Powell’s and Book Depository.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Kim says:

    Yes!  I suggested it and you read it!  I’m glad you liked it as much as I did.

  2. 2
    beeswax1 says:

    I read this book and thought it was awesome. There’s a creepy sense of claustrophobia throughout the book and it’s fast-paced and gripping. I’m pretty sure that it’s part of a trilogy.

  3. 3
    Hannah says:

    I also enjoyed Across the Universe, so much that I bought the audiobook for DH. It is book 1 of a trilogy—I have no idea when the next one will be out though.

  4. 4
    helen says:

    Usually, your reviews are spot on for me if I’ve read the book and if not I’ll usually buy a book that you review and like, but this one…Yuck! I bought into the hype before it came out and actually purchased it without sampling it. (Bad Me! never again)

    I thought the whole concept was faulty from the first and the writing meandered all over the place. The characters were blah, and so whiny at times that I wanted to smack them.

  5. 5
    Betty Fokker says:

    I’m a SciFi fan, and I have to say this review REALLY made the book appeal to me!

  6. 6
    Donna says:

    This has been on my tbr list for a while, no I need to bump it up to the top. So, I’m off to the GBPL website. Just when I got my reserve list under control…. Thanks… Thanks a lot…

  7. 7
    Chelsea says:

    Thanks so much for the review. I was strongly considering buying this to share with my 15 year old sister. She’s become a hard core HEA enthusiest lately though, so I think I’ll hold off for awhile since you said it’s not a Romance Novel.

  8. 8
    jayhjay says:

    LOL, this cover is like one of those optical illusions! http://www.123opticalillusions.com/pages/Facevase.php

    I kept looking at it only seeing the light part thinking it was some deep space thingie.  Then finally I realized it was a picture of two faces and the starry part was the space in between.

  9. 9
    Laurel says:

    I kept looking at it only seeing the light part thinking it was some deep space thingie.  Then finally I realized it was a picture of two faces and the starry part was the space in between.

    Me, too, jayhjay!

    This sounds like a story I would love except for the claustrophobic feel. I wondered about that reading the review- on a spaceship, nowhere to go- and then saw the comment from someone else that confirmed it. I have no idea why that bothers me so very much but it makes me panicky in books or movies. Spaceship and submarine settings for an entire novel are a dealkiller for me.

    Which sucks, because artistically I think it can add a lot to the character development. But maybe I’ll go read One Con Glory!

    Great review, Carrie!

  10. 10
    Stephanie says:

    This book has SO MUCH GOING FOR IT!  The plot is like, off-the-chain amazing.  But I have to admit that here and there it can wax a little boring.  I will be reading the second book, though.  I’m dying to know more about the murders and whether they’ll reach their destination.

  11. 11
    Alpha Lyra says:

    This book sounds great! I went straight to Amazon to order it, only to find it’s priced at $11 for the Kindle version. Le sigh. Another good book I won’t be reading.

  12. 12
    Emily says:

    It took me a while to get just the song out of my head. I thought it might be connected to the movie came out awhile back. Both the song and movie share the title with the book. (Also the cover looks like the movie poster.
    Actually the book sounds like it does match the song:
    Nothing’s gonna change my world
    Nothing’s gonna change my world
    Nothing’s gonna change my world
    nothing’s gonna change my world
    etc.
    Anyway I stopped buying young adult books when people gave me disapproving looks like “you’re too old”
    I also mostly avoid hardcovers, because they are more expensive and take up more room on my shelves.
    Still I expect the book will come out in paperback, so that doesn’t matter to me.

  13. 13
    orangehands says:

    Okay, when I saw the title I thought it was going to be based on the movie and was wondering if the book – like the movie – also seemed like a love story between the two male leads with Evan Rachel Wood just kind of thrown in.

    But never mind that.

    Anyway, this definitely sounds interesting.

  14. 14
    orangehands says:

    Ha, Emily, you got there first. :)

    But buy YA! Screw what the check out people say, YA is awesome and great and you’re never too old for it.

  15. 15
    Thalia says:

    +1000 points for the reversible cover.  That’s bloody brilliant.  I might have just bought it for that.  But the review is also good.  I like YA science fiction.

  16. 16
    nutmeag says:

    I may have to try to find this one at the library. It sounds rather similar in world building to a trilogy I’m just finishing up. Speaking of, anyone who thinks this books sounds interesting should read the Jacobs Ladder trilogy (Dust, Chill, and Grail) by Elizabeth Bear. Amazing world building! Not romancy, though (although love is a large theme overall).

  17. 17
    Sasha says:

    I clicked on this page multiple times today- kept getting immediately interrupted.  The entire day, I kept thinking, “Oh, this will be interesting, a sci-fi romance between two intriguing stomach shaped creatures who live somewhere far in the galaxy and kiss with their intestine-shaped mouths”.  Shows you what kind of day it’s been that this did not seem particularly strange.

  18. 18
    Julia says:

    I read this because of the cover. I mean LOOK HOW PRETTY! But I really enjoyed it. It was not too heavy but really believed the world and enjoyed the traces of our own civilization that are left hundreds of years later. I liked that a lot about the TV series Firefly too.

    Actually after I finished and posted my own review. I tweeted about it and Beth Revis replied in thanks. We ended up tweeting for quite awhile about some stuff in the book and Chinese. lol

    Awesome review!

  19. 19
    velocireader says:

    Totally what Sasha said. I sat here staring at the cover for quite some time, thinking about bladder-shaped aliens or possibly alien womb-sperm combinations, before reading the review and then feeling like I failed some bizarre book-cover Rorschach test.

  20. 20
    Grace says:

    Interesting.  I’ll have to direct a friend of mine to this one as she’s looking for a couple of books her daughter may like and would enjoy this review.

    The cover caught my attention because it reminds of this art piece at Deviant Art:

    http://elenadudina.deviantart.com/art/Frozen-diamonds-186147086

    I like the DA artwork more than the book cover because it doesn’t have the weird face/vase optical effect, but the book cover does draw attention.

  21. 21
    loonigrrl says:

    This books sounds really good- verrrry intriguing! I’m adding this to the top of my tbr list- thanks :)

  22. 22

    I wasn’t in the mood for a romance when I originally read this book, and that definitely isn’t what I got.  I thought it was a wonderful sci-fi story with a claustrophobic setting, confused and lonely characters with the determination to not just survive but live.

    Regarding the cover – As I was reading the story I noticed a lot of Snow White references/similarities and I linked those to the cover choice.  However, I agree, the cover does make it look like a romance.

  23. 23
    Carrie S says:

    I love everyone’s comments on the cover.  When I showed it to DH, and asked, “based on this cover, what do you think the book is about?”  he said, “Umm, I don’t know.  Maybe physics?”  I have to tell you guys that in a million years I would not have guessed physics.  Stomach shaped aliens, maybe, physics, no.

    @Laurel:  not only is the ship very claustrophobic, but there’s some really nasty body horror and psychological stuff involving the cyrogenic freezing process and containers.  So I’m thinking this is not the book for you (and neither is Blind Descent, a mystery novel set in a cave that freaked me the hell out).

    @Helen:  Sorry you didn’t like it.  I could totally picture some people loving it and some people just hating it, especially if they didn’t know what they were getting into.  I was OK with many of the characters but I spent the first 75% of the book wanting to smack Elder upside the head!

  24. 24
    Ceilidh says:

    I loved this book too. I loved the attention to detail and the claustrophobic atmosphere throughout. I also enjoyed how well played out the relationship between Amy and Elder was; it was more like fascination than romance and Revis played it really well. It’s been a while since I got so enthusiastic about a YA novel (although Lauren Myracle’s Shine has also helped with that.)

  25. 25
    christi says:

    I really enjoyed this book. It is the first of a trilogy, and the next one is called A Million Suns and it’s supposed to be released sometime next year. The ending was rushed but overall, its one of those things that changed me. I literally had to walk outside to get fresh air after reading this. But I admit this was the first YA Science Fiction book I had ever read. The cover and title really lured me in and I personally I liked this book and I will be looking forward to A Million Suns next year.

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