Upon finding this book – and its successors – in my public library, I thought it was what lead to a movie by the same name. One of my middle school friends was obsessed with the movie, but I never saw it. I had no idea that they were about two completely different things. Still after reading the back cover’s overview, it sounded interesting. It, as well as the two books after, ended up being in my thirteen book check out that day.
Across the Universe by Beth Revis is a book entirely its own. Usually I am not one for science fiction, but this one seemed different – and I was right. Still being an YA novel, it was easy to read – some things slightly confusing, which is why I almost put it down, but I pushed past to see the end. It’s science fiction and murder mystery all rolled up into a dystopian society.
The book follows Amy, a sixteen year old girl from Colorado who agrees to be frozen for three centuries with her parents and ninety-seven other volunteers. The plan is to start a new world – Centauri-Earth – many light years away. She leaves everything behind, yet her mother – a genetic splicer expert – and her father – military and sixth in command – give her the decision to go with them. Amy decides to be flash frozen so she can join her parents on Centauri-Earth three hundred years from now. Just reading about the freezing process gives me a stomachache. Forget the blue goo into your veins, gluing your eyes shut, tubes and wires shoved down your throat before being drowned by sparkly blue liquid and flash frozen. Why anyone would want to go through all of that to be frozen for three hundred years is beyond me.
Fast forward two hundred and fifty years, we learn about the ship, Godspeed – originally known as the Ark when Amy was frozen – and the life amongst the ship. We are introduced to Elder, sixteen and heir to become the next leader of the ship for the new generation after Eldest steps down. He wasn’t supposed to be next – the Elder before him died, which is why Eldest has been the leader for two generations. Eldest must teach him everything about the ship and it’s people before leaving it all to Elder.
When asked to research, Elder goes to the Recorder Hall to learn from our planet Sol-Earth, and what caused such discord on their (our) planet. Orion, who is in charge of Recorder Hall is happy to lead Elder to discover information about the ship – even information that can ensure discord on the ship – such as discovering an entire level that he never knew about, right below the Hospital. During this time Amy is frozen in her box and chamber on the mystery level. Her consciousness is still awake despite not being able to move, breath, or even open her eyes. She said, “The only thing keeping the nightmares from engulfing me is the hope that there couldn’t possibly be a hundred more years before I wake up.” All of her friends have all lived, grown old, and died by this point.
As the story slowly progresses we learn that at birth each person on board has a wireless communication device implanted behind their left ear, basically acting as personal cellphones and locators. The society and culture aboard is an interesting one. Only 2,312 people live aboard the ship, only one language is spoken – they even use cuss words “frex(ing)” and “shite” – there are no variations of people – all have dark olive skin, dark brown hair and eyes – and absolutely no one worships – apparently all religions are simply fairy tales and myths from Sol-Earth. There is no school, each generation goes to Recorder Hall to learn before being let go to learn their occupation. The Elder is the youngest person on the ship – born after the newest generation and are not allowed to know who their parents are so they do not become biased, so instead they jump from family to family until the age of thirteen. Also, the society is all about population control. Contraceptives are infused in the water supply, then once it becomes time for the next generation to be born, they remove the contraceptives and replace them with hormones, thus leading to the Season a.k.a. mating season. People literally drop their drawers anywhere and start going at it all over the place and not just behind closed doors. Once the women become pregnant (within like 24 hours) they go to the doctor for an appointment, but are really unknowingly being injected with particular traits their society made need like mathematics, agriculture, science, etc to avoid incestuous genes from ruining them and creating a generation of idiots.
The story focuses more on Elder until Amy is unplugged from her chamber and left to melt. Elder is a rebellious one. He enjoys a little chaos and he wishes this perfectly organized and obedient ship full of people would be a little different. After a little digging Elder discovers his way below the hospital to where the contingency chambers were. About this time, Amy thinks she is being woken finally after three hundred years, when she wakes up to Doc, Elder, and Eldest she learns that she was accidentally woken up fifty years early. Her parents are still frozen and the chances of her surviving if they refreeze her are slim to none. Eldest and Doc believe someone was trying to murder her, but not a clue as to why. Eldest also believes that she will disturb this peaceful, obedient society, and wishes to throw her out into space, instead he tells the entire ship she is simply a science experiment gone wrong and to completely ignore her.
Curiosity is a curious thing. Once the cat is out of the bag, Elder cannot help but obsess over the secret floor, nor can he get over Amy – the girl with the pale freckled skin. bright green eyes, and hair like a red sunset. Soon three more are found, one is saved just in time to not melt, while the other two were already dead when they were found. Again, Elder ventures to Recorder Hall to learn more. After taking Amy with him to show her all of Sol-Earth’s history to make her feel less home sick, she tells him that it isn’t correct history. They have been teaching the wrong stuff for years, someone clearly rewrote history so no one would cause disturbance amongst the society.
By this point I have determined a list of suspects as to who could have possibly wanted to kill her and their motives, all within theory before actually finishing the book.
- Eldest: he wants to ensure the society stays the same once they land on Centauri-Earth – mono-ethnicity and all.
- Doc: could secretly be conducting science experiments on them.
- Elder who passed away: Doc and Eldest say things like this hast happened since the Elder who passed away was still alive.
- Orion – was the Elder who passed away but secretly didn’t ^ He’s been really keen on helping Elder figure everything out about the ship. Also Eldest seems really irritated every time Orion is around.
Once I got deeper into the story I couldn’t put it down and soon my theories started making sense and causing a bigger mystery all the same. Once Elder digs deeper in Recorder Hall with Amy, she realizes, Ed the guy who froze her on Earth, was the first person aboard ship to have a baby. They traced his lineage to discover thirteen generations until the plague, after doing the math, they realized that couldn’t be right because that would mean that they have been traveling longer than three hundred years. After discovering this, Eldest finally told Elder that the plague never occurred and that they made it up because there was so much discord amongst the ship and a lot killed themselves. The ship is actually two hundred and fifty years off schedule because they can’t recycle and reuse the uranium fuel like they thought they could.
STOP READING – SPOILER ALERT – MORE SECRETS TO FOLLOW BELOW – Skip ahead to my review!
More secrets spill – The three bodies found earlier were all of military/weaponry/war background. Doc never killed the Elder that ‘passed away’. Elders are cloned from the DNA of the Eldest, which is why the biometric scanner always reads as “Eldest/Elder”, their DNA is the same so they can never be told apart, which is why Orion has gone undetected because he was supposed to be the next Eldest if the doctor hadn’t “killed him”. Orion ends up killing Eldest by dumping an entire bucket of Phydus – the ship’s happy drug that relaxes your body and takes away your emotions, also runs through the water supply so the ship will never rise up against the Eldest/Elder – on Eldest’s head. Elder then pushes Orion into the freezing blue liquid and flash freezes him like Amy was – but not properly. Elder becomes Eldest and declares that there will be no more drugs and in child-like terms explains to the ship that they were drugged by Eldest and that they will soon be experiencing their own emotions soon.
The biggest secret of them all comes out right at the end – Elder was the one who really unplugged Amy. But not to kill her, to talk to her and learn from her experiences of Sol-Earth, thinking she could simply be refrozen, but she can’t. Amy is mad, but she doesn’t want to be alone. She accepts that she’ll never see the planet Centauri-Earth with her parents. She just doesn’t want to be alone anymore.
Honestly, I’ve never read anything like this before. I felt every emotion for each one of the characters. I haven’t felt this way about characters in a really long time – I’ve felt connections, but I fell in love with the characters despite the way their society and culture was. I wanted to experience that type of culture first hand – just slightly darker skin and I would fit right in.
I would recommend this book to anyone. It’s more murder mystery with a splash of science fiction, than full science fiction. It’s an easy read, but impossible to put down. Over the span of three days, I have spent about twelve hours reading it, and not being able to put it down. I cannot wait to read the next book in the trilogy – which is currently on the table next to me as I write this. Look for my next review and recommendation for A Million Suns, the next book in the Across the Universe Trilogy. Happy reading!