(Across the Universe #1)
by Beth Revis
Released on 01.11.2011398 pages
Source: own - won in giveaway
REVIEW: I remember clearly when this book came out. All the buzz, the glowing reviews, the excitement over a sci-fi book for the YA crowd. I never got around to reading it at the time, despite having a copy.
Argh, you guys, I'm just going to rip the band-aid off: this book was **thisclose** to being a DNFer for me. I got almost halfway before the tide started turning to the point of being tolerable. With the help of a good beer (full disclosure: I read the second half a little tipsy).
But it's the first half I have the most issues with. Subjectively, it simply wasn't my type of writing, which is a shame since I do enjoy science-fiction. The first thing that caught my eye was the use of an odd metaphor as Amy is being frozen:
"My heart wanted to pound, beat upon my ribcage like a lover beating on the door. . "This is coming from a seventeen-year old girl. It makes me cringe. The simile makes sense in that it explains what her heart wanted to do, but it sounds wrong coming from her. She didn't say 'knocking'; she said 'beating'. 'Beating' connotes anger, enough anger that it's coming out in physical aggression. I'm not normally this nitpicky, but it simply sounds odd that this is what she compared it to. She gave no indication that she was ever in such a relationship, and given her age, the word choice strikes me as sounding so very wrong. It definitely isn't the last time in the book that a character thinks something that seems so misplaced given the situation. Check out these lines that Elder thinks after Amy is unfrozen and then is sedated to keep her from becoming hysterical:
"I stare at her, and even though her chest is moving up and down in steady breathes, she looks more dead now than she did in the ice.
I wonder if she dreams."Really? You just said she looks like she's dead (well, relatively speaking), and you're wondering if she's dreaming? Huh? I mean c'mon, it's like he's trying to evoke Snow White or Lady of Shallot type of sentiments. It feels melodramatic.
Then there is the back and forth chapters between Elder and Amy while Amy is frozen. I have no problem with shared first-person points-of-view. However, one chapter from Amy explaining her semi-conscious distress is enough. But it just goes on and on with the introspection and the dreams that sometimes become nightmares. It feels redundant after a point and makes for dull reading.
The other issue is that Amy and Elder feel flat. They both seem to have the same voice, with the only differences being their backgrounds and settings. There really isn't anything that stands out in terms of characterization to me, and I need that to truly enjoy a story.
Then comes a very large issue for me, and that's the insta-love. Look, I get insta-attraction, and maybe I'm alone on this, but never once as a teenager (or ever) did I look at a guy and think, "Ohhhh yeah, great body. I can totally trust him." And this is exactly the conclusion Amy comes to after regaining consciousnesses and taking in Elder's physical characteristics:
"The high cut of his cheekbones and the strong curve of his forehead make him look instantly trustworthy, maybe even kind."And later:
"All of this adds up to a certain something that makes him just look like the kind of guy who can lead a ship. It's almost as if God had known Elder was going to be some sort of leader or whatever, so He gave him the right face and body for it."I am going to bypass the opportunity we have here about discussing the issue of young women (or anyone, really) making character judgments based on hotness for the moment, and just sum up my thoughts as, "Ew. That's wrong." I guess one must be hot to be a leader? And what happened to judging people on their actions? And if one is a leader and also hot, of course, he must be ordained by God. Or whatever.
If this is Amy, I'll be blunt: I don't like silly heroines.
There are other issues. Amy in particular has a tendency to be redundant about things as big as constantly wanting her parents and as little as remarking on the difficulty of understanding the ship's inhabitants due to their accent. There also is SO much inner dialogue/introspection in this book that when action does come around, it feels like a bridge or a lead-in to more inner thoughts. A whole lotta shoulda/woulda/coulda that doesn't add much for me.
In terms of plot, I don't know a whole lot about space science, so I can't speak as to whether it's plausible, but here are my issues (beware: spoilers):
- predictable plot twists (inner dialogue of characters practically give it all away)
- a love triangle by itself would be a cliche, but this book has a pseudo love triangle between Amy, Elder and a secondary character. It only serves to give Elder jealously issues over his insta-love interest. The triangle is rendered ridiculous due the fact that it's never one to begin with.
- and the BIG issue: gratuitous attempted-rape scene in addition to simultaneous mass mating. I'm not even joking.
Look, anyone who reads my reviews knows that I don't have issues with sex in YA and that I support stories that support rape survivors. The attempted rape scene is during something called the Season, which is when all the inhabitants of this one section of the ship are essentially programmed via the water supply to have sex and make babies. I don't particularly care for the many descriptions of the various sexual couplings that the main characters had to step over in public. I think the concept of the Season helped illustrate the lack of individual freedom, but all the public sex as scenery was overkill. It's during this time of extreme arousal that Amy was attacked and is rescued by a male secondary character. I feel Amy's attempted rape was slipped into the story for the sole purpose of putting her in danger so she could be rescued. This absolutely wasn't needed. We already knew the ship was dangerous for her; she'd been warned multiple times, other characters were worried about leaving her by herself in public and she'd already been cornered and felt threatened once before! I just felt a level of disgust at it, and it deeply felt like a contrived attempt at sexual salaciousness on top of graphically described scenes of mindless sex.
Not only did this happen, but it was never resolved. NOTHING happened or was said about the attackers thereafter. Maybe this was followed-up in a subsequent book, but I'm in the firm opinion that each book in a series should stand on its own as a whole story. Using something as serious as an attempted rape as a device for moving the plot along and then never coming back to it in a meaningful way made me extremely angry. It was dealt with very cheaply.
Then there's Amy's BIG epiphany at the end. I won't spoil it, but let's just say it was weak, way weak and compared the actions of someone who truly loved her to someone who likely played her, and came up with justification for a decision that just had me writing the note, "WHAT?"
In the book's defense, the second half was much better than the first, but I still don't like the book as a whole. What we have here is a great concept with a weakly executed plot and poor characterization. Maybe it's me. Maybe this is an indication that I should stick to realistic contemporary YA for the most part. Whatever the reason, Across the Universe and I simply did not work on many levels.
I don't care for giving negative reviews, but my issues with the book really stuck with me. But for many, the book worked. I've linked to some below. I encourage you to read them or visit the GoodReads page so you can get a broader idea of what the book was like:
I Read Banned Books