ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Across the Universe #1)
With one decision Amy changes her entire future. A future that now will extend far beyond a normal lifetime. Along with her parents, Amy agrees to be cryogenically frozen for 300 years onboard a ship destined for a new planet thought to be hospitable to human life. She is supposed to wake up with her parents to a new and hopeful future, but when her awakening finally comes, nothing is what she expected.
Amy is brutally unfrozen years ahead of schedule, and if Elder, a young man about her age aboard the ship, hadn't found her thrashing around in her clear box, she would have drowned in the cryo liquid. Once fully thawed and aware of her surroundings, Amy is startled by the way of life for people on the Godspeed. Shockingly, they seem to be merely drones, lacking the ability to think for themselves and meekly following the orders of Eldest, the leader and one responsible for all those onboard.
When others of the cryogenically frozen are unplugged and left to their deaths as Amy was, she and Elder begin searching for a killer in their midst, and in doing so, learn long hidden secrets about the ship itself, the history of the people living on it, and the motivations of those in charge.
Across the Universe is a story that's quietly compelling, one where we find ourselves undeniably intrigued by the subtle nuances of the characters and their expansive yet incredibly claustrophobic environment, drawn in slowly and carefully as a startling world unfolds page to page. The subdued quality of this tale is unnerving in a positive way, leaving us feeling as though we're wading through a viscous liquid while reading–the movements of the characters around us slow and measured, their minds seeming to operate on a more simplistic level as everyone attends to their required tasks with a complacency we and Amy don't understand as we struggle to run away and find something familiar. Every quiet whoosh, whir, and click made by the Godspeed causes us to jump, our nerves on edge as a result of the stifling calm, and we wait anxiously to learn the secrets the ship keeps hidden within her cool metal walls with only the sounds of our churning thoughts for company.
Both Amy and Elder are likeable characters, though a potent and unbreakable connection to either of them never truly forms. They hold our interest but don't necessarily haunt our waking thoughts or our dreams as some other characters do, the true strength of this novel lying in the mystery element surrounding Amy and the others' untimely thawings and the rather profound questions this futuristic society raises with regard to human nature. The romance between our two protagonists is a bit disappointing, perhaps due in part to the cover design and back cover excerpts that lead us to believe their connection will be a more vital aspect of the story, whereas it could have been left out entirely and been an equally successful tale.
Though Amy and Elder leave just a little to be desired, Eldest is an utterly fascinating character, a man who acts with the unwavering belief he's doing what's best for those under his care, and with every revelation we question whether he is more worthy of our pity for his flawed logic, or our revulsion at his inability to see he has stripped his people of everything that makes them individuals, allowing his job as leader to be free of emotional conflict and discord and defined instead by a numb pleasantness, blind capitulation, and sanctioned productivity. Even more interesting is that because Eldest lacks the loud, boisterous speeches professing the merits of his villainy and the violent confrontations we expect of those who do evil, we are able to better identify with him and more easily understand the reasons behind his decisions (though we may vehemently disagree with him), his quiet conniving an insidious brand of corruption that more deeply shocks us than any straightforward, frontal attack ever could.
Overall, Across the Universe is an engrossing read, one that lulls a bit after the opening scene with Amy's freezing, but then gradually consumes us as we flip back and forth between the minds of Amy and Elder, attempting to solve a mystery and trying desperately to understand a very alien way of life.