Revis, Beth. Across the Universe. New York: Penguin Young Readers Group, 2011.

Similar Books: FEED by M.T. Anderson; FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley; TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee; PLANET OF THE APES by Pierre Boulle

Click here for Book Club Questions

I am silent as death.

It is the silence that drives me mad. The silence that drives the nightmares to me.

Because what if I am dead? How can someone without a  beating heart, without breathing lungs live like I do? I must be dead. And this is my greatest fear: After 301 years, when they pull my glass coffin from this morgue, and they let my body thaw like chicken meat on the kitchen counter, I will be just like I am now. I will spend all of eternity trapped in my dead body. There is nothing beyond this. I will be locked within myself forever.

And I want to scream. I want to throw open my eyes and wake up and not be alone with myself anymore, but I can’t.

I can’t.

Amy and her parents have been cryogenically frozen to be awakened in 300 years when their spaceship reaches the planet they will colonize. Unfortunately, Amy is unfrozen 50 years too soon. Her parents are too critical to the colony to awaken early, so by the time she sees them again, she will be older than they are. The culture on the spaceship is unfamiliar and everyone Amy meets is either an emotionless drone or lives in the mental ward. But there is little time for her to grieve the loss of her former life, because someone is thawing other colonists and leaving them to die. In order to find the murderer, Amy must join forces with Elder, the teenage future leader of the ship. But all of the inhabitants on board have been told lies, and there are secrets that even Elder doesn’t know.

The Review

As much as I liked this book, I felt that this book was not what it promised to be: ‘a murder mystery in space’ and (based on the cover) ‘a romance.’ This book goes beyond either of those roles to fill the better role of ‘literary science fiction. The pacing is slow and relaxed, focusing on the characters and how they grow to the world around them. The murder mystery doesn’t really start until around page 150, but I wasn’t reading so much to find out who the murderer was, because I guessed that almost from the start. I was reading to see how people who were born on a spaceship and who would die on that ship lived. And what these people do to survive is incredible, and often disturbing (see suggested readership age below). The whole time, I found myself asking questions about what I would do if I were in their position, which is why I added book club questions later on, and why I feel this book can be great for adult book clubs.

Both Elder and Amy’s points of view advanced the plot and their personal growth gave them added depth as characters. The small cast of characters that surrounded them were equally fleshed out. This book is fueled by secrets, and as the two main characters slowly unravel them, they are left with a choice of what really is the right thing to do for the ship. My main disappointment was how I felt slightly cheated at the end to discover Elder’s personal secret. While it wasn’t too surprising, I felt that revealing it in the last few pages of the book took away the personal struggle the reader could’ve seen Elder go through for the whole book. I can see why the author did it, since it might have tainted Elder in our view from the start, or removed our focus from other things. But overall, this book keeps you thinking long after you’ve shut the cover.

Sequels: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is the first in a planned trilogy.

Suggested Reader Age: On Amazon, this  book is recommend for 10th grade or above. I personally saw this as more of an adult book, despite the teenage protagonists. For parents considering letting their teens read this, I would strongly encourage the parent to read it first. In this book, there is The Season where the population is allowed to have animalistic sex in public for about 2-3 days. While neither of the main characters participate, both main characters are surrounded by The Season, and have to repeatedly step over couples mating. The main character is almost raped near a couple mating. There is also a character who commits suicide, and mentions of another suicide.

Feel free to leave a comment if you’ve read the book. I’d love to hear what you think. And if you haven’t read it yet, what’s your  favorite science fiction book?

BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS *spoiler alert*

[1] If you had to leave everything you loved to be with your family, would you do? What would you regret leaving behind? What small mementos would you take with you?

[2] Amy is frozen for centuries, yet she is still semi-conscious during this time. She is the only one who wakes up, and being frozen has affected her by giving her claustrophobia. If you were stuck in a similar state, what side effects do you think you would have to face upon waking up? Do you think that others might lose their grasp on reality and go insane from the freezing?

[3] Eldest focuses on three causes of discord (First, difference. Second, lack of leadership. Third, individual thought.): To what extent are these causes true? Can these causes be overcome in a better way than creating a physically and mentally homogeneous society? What good can difference bring into a society? How important is individual thought? In what ways did the lack of difference make the people less tolerant?

[4]  On the ship, the Feeders act like animals because of the medication in the water. How did the behavior differ for those considered crazy and taking the mental medication? In what ways do people in the world today allow medication to control themselves? If you were to “wake up” after acting in such a behavior your whole life, how would you feel about your previous actions, and about those who choose that decision for you? To what extent are these people allowed to have choice?

[5] A strong theme is this book is lies and truth. In your life, do you prefer to know the truth even if it hurts you, or live with a lie that leaves you happy? What is the importance of truth? How does knowing the truth change those aboard the ship? In what way had their false history shaped the ship’s current condition? In what way has our view of history shaped us as a people?

[6] At the end of the book, you find that Elder was the one who unfroze Amy. How does that change your perception of him? How does that affect their relationship? In the end, Amy forgives Elder. Would she have done so if she were back on Earth and Elder weren’t the only friend she had?

[7] Elder chooses to lead the people without the Phydus in the water, but he keeps the wires just in case. What would you have done in a similar situation? Would you want to lead docile sheep or temperamental humans? If Elder is still keeping the wires, has he really made the decision to lead without medicating the populace, or is this just a delay in the inevitable?

[8] Eldest was known for keeping secrets, and died before all those secrets were revealed to Elder. While Doc is still around, he may not know everything. How will this affect the future of the ship, and Elder’s future as a leader?

[9] Genetic modification is taken to an extreme in this book. In what ways does that compare to the God complex found in Frankenstein?

[10] When considering Eldest, in what ways did he take the place of God on this ship? In what ways is Eldest similar to other dictators, such as Hitler?

[11] Religion and love are seen as a myths. How does that affect the populace as a whole? In what ways do the characters looks beyond what they are taught in this aspect? If they had been given religion and love, would that give them other means for hope?

[12] If you were the first generation on the ship, what changes would you make to help the future generations? What would you want to have on the ship for the crew? What would you want to take with you for the people who would populate the new planet? In what ways would living on a ship change the way you live or view your life now?

[13] The first Eldest during the “plague” made some hard decisions that affected the generations after him. What could he have done differently to have a better outcome? How can one lead when there is chaos? To what extent did the fear of the future allow for the dictatorship to fall into place?

10 thoughts on “book review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

  1. Thanks much for this review! I didn’t read the spoiler part (just in case I still read it someday), but I was glad to see a diff slant from other raving reviews I’d read of this book. No, it doesn’t sound very teen, esp with the slow pace and subject matter in parts. Very helpful. 🙂

  2. Loved it! And those questions are fantastic. Thank you so much.

    As for my favorite science fiction, besides this of course, I really like Heir Apparent by Vivian Van Velde. It’s kind of fantasy sci fi but it’s still really good.

  3. That’s interesting that you consider it literary. I find it fascinating that the recent trend reveals our issues with society now – but they have to be expressed through science fiction or dystopias. I was watching a documentary on science fiction in the 1950s, and they created Star Trek so they could have a show that would discuss issues such as race, gender, and social issues and they couldn’t do that in a contemporary show. It seems to be the same with literature now in the sense that people are using these as forms of discussion of societies in general.

  4. Thanks for the comments, all! I’m glad you loved the review. And if anyone uses these book questions, let me know how it goes!

    Writer J – wow, that’s really awesome. I have noticed a bit of a trend with that, too, but I think it’s not so much a recent trend. I mean, look at THE GIVER or 1984 or even further back with some of the classics like PLANET OF THE APES. Even Frankenstein was such a good commentary on someone taking science too far. It’s just such a fascinating area!!

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