After reading the astonishing debut novel Earth Girl by Janet Edwards (review to come closer to its August publication), I was desperate to read more YA scifi. As a result, I put aside my prejudice against the cover of Across the Universe by Beth Revis and took the plunge. That was less than a week ago and since then I haven’t just read Across the Universe, I’ve also lapped up its sequel A Million Suns. If the final novel in the trilogy, Shades of Earth, were also available, that would have gone the same way. But, as it is, I am going to have to be patient until 2013 and, I promise you, this will not be easy.
Across the Universe begins in a way that you will not forget. Teenager Amy watches first her mother and then her father undergo the harrowing, nasty procedure that will see them sealed into a frozen sleep for 300 years. They will be woken up when their space vessel Godspeed finally lands on their destination planet Centauri-Earth. Amy’s parents are essential cargo, among 100 sleepers vital for the settlement of this new earth. Amy, however, is their luxury item. Watching Amy, alive to her senses, experiencing this icy sleep, is compelling and quite horrifying. Without doubt, this is one of the most riveting opening sequences to a novel that I have read for quite a while.
Elder is a the youngest inhabitant aboard Godspeed, trained by Eldest to be the leader of the next generation about to be born. Elder’s voice comprises half of the novel and he is the boy who must calm Amy who is woken up unnaturally, long before her time and ripped from her parents.
Across the Universe is, on the surface, a whodunnit. The frozen sleepers are at risk. They are being murdered. Amy, protective of her parents, is determined to solve this mystery as well as discover why her own sleep was destroyed, using the resources of Elder to help her. But this novel is so much more than that. We are aboard a spaceship miles across, containing fields, animals, a hospital, a library and it is full of people, each belonging to different classes organised by their work. Watching them all is Eldest. Learning from him is Elder. And alien to them all, with her red hair and pale skin, is Amy.
The Godspeed is an incredible ship (you can explore it at this website). We see it through the eyes of Amy and Elder, meaning we experience the vessel both as a stranger and as someone who knows no other home. The chapters are brief, switching between our two narrators, and this pushes the novel along fast, giving us glimpses of other characters and beliefs that are familiar to one and alien to the other. There is sadness and violence here. Amy has much to endure. There is also, interestingly, a claustrophobic sense of confinement, of darkness, of space and stars excluded.
Amy’s character dominates and so, perhaps inevitably, Elder has the weaker voice. But this is a fine YA scifi – there are twists and turns aplenty and the ship and its circumstances are fascinatingly realised. Above all, though, we have Amy who, alone aboard Godspeed, knows what it is like to feel the sun on her face and the earth beneath her feet.
A review of the second novel in the trilogy, A Million Suns, will follow shortly.