Thursday, March 3, 2011

Across The Universe Review

I finally finished Across the Universe, by my friend Beth Revis. It's been over six months now since I read that powerful first chapter, and I want to share with all of you how much I enjoyed this book.

Before I get to the story, I want to talk about the level of production and design that went into this novel. I'm a bit of a detail and design freak, so I noticed some special things in this book. And I'm not talking about the cover. Sure, the cover is beautiful, and it's reversible too, which is pretty amazing. But the cover has been oohed and ahhed over before. Not that it doesn't deserve it, but I'm not going to go into that here.

I have two hardcover copies of this book. One I bought on the release day, and the other Beth signed and sent to me as a very kind thank you for my launch day post. Except for the signature they're both the same. The cover of the book has an embossed symbol, kind of a stylized Eagle:

Beneath it says GODSPEED OS v1.2. This is not something you often see on a book's cover, and I find it to be very unique, and extremely well done. Next, after the title page, there is a quote from the Lennon/McCartney hit song of the same title. Having owned a record label in the past, I know that you don't quote from a Beatles song without permission, and permission does not usually come free, or even cheap. I don't think the quote really changes the story much, but I think it says a lot about Razorbill/Penguin's opinion of the book, and how committed they were to making it a success.

Finally, once the story begins, the page layout is one of the most interesting I have ever seen. The chapter heading font, and the POV character font are both beautiful. Futuristic enough, but not cold or clinical. I'm not sure what font the normal text is typeset in, but it feels appropriate and there are several spots where different fonts come in to play to go along with specific situations. The title and page number headers are also beautiful, featuring a greyscale gradient background that gives just the right taste of technology.

Now on the the story.

I don't want to talk about the plot really, because at it's heart this story is a mystery, and it is full of wonderful twists and surprises that I don't want to ruin. I will only say that you will not be disappointed. Whether you like romance, whodunit, sci-fi, or adventure, there is something in this story for you.

It's often called a dystopian novel. In fact Beth is a member of The League of Extraordinary Writers, a group blog for published authors of dystopian fiction. I believe they all write YA as well, but I would have to double check that. I would argue that AtU is not exactly dystopian. I consider it more of a microcosm of dystopia. I mean the ship certainly has elements of that kind of society, and the Sol-Earth they left behind sounds like it was probably pretty far gone, but it works even better, in my opinion, because the population of the ship is so small by the time the story begins that you don't get overwhelmed by the idea of this society which cannot possibly be resisted. I thought the whole thing worked very well.

There are two main POV characters, Amy, and Elder, and they contrast each other interestingly, as well as going together perfectly at the same time. I won't go too deeply into things, because again I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say that Amy and Elder start out at the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to knowledge of, and trust in, the society aboard Godspeed, and it sets up their relationship in an excellent way.

The writing reminds me a lot of Suzanne Collins. It is direct, without a lot of flowing or detailed description, and yet Beth seems to have that same gift of saying so much with so few words. Here is a passage I found particularly intriguing:

Steela catches my eyes with her cloudy ones, the color of milk mixed with mud. She looks warily at me for a moment more, then her wrinkled lips spread into an even wrinklier smile. Her teeth are stained and crooked, and I can smell onions on her breath, but still it's a nice smile. It's a true smile.

It's subtle, sure, but the strength of meaning is there, veiled by the power of simplicity. Beth writes very well for young adults because she conveys powerful ideas without getting things too complicated, and yet there is still enough high concept thematic background that I never once felt bored or lead on, or like she was trying too hard.

This really is a Universal book that will appeal to just about any reader. Well done Beth! I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and am so happy to bear witness to your success.

I know most of you have already read this, but if you haven't, get it. Now. You won't regret it.

35 comments:

Theresa Milstein said...

I loved Across the Universe too.

I see you've been pinkified. Since we both have dark hair, it's more like fuschiafied.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I just received an ARC of Across the Universe in the mail that I won on Theresa Milstein's blog. I haven't started it yet (in the middle of James Frey's novel Bright Shiny Morning), but I can't wait to dive in. My daughter is racing to the end of her book so she can read it before me. We're all excited about Beth's debut novel in our house!!

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Oh, hey Theresa! *waves up*

Pk Hrezo said...

Awesome! I just got my copy in the mail the other day that I'd won from someone's blog. A nice hard cover too. So excited to read it... loved your review.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great review. I haven't had a chance to read mine yet. My daughter is reading it first. Can't wait. And I'm excited. Beth agreed to be interviewed on my blog on May 23rd.

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

My friend is reading this one currently and she keeps saying that she's having strong reactions to it, not bad ones, but strong ones. At one point she had to fan herself because the description was so absorbing. Which makes me want to read it even more. One book at a time...thanks for the review! Heard a lot of good things about this one (and I like your attention to detail)

Sommer Leigh said...

I am actually in the middle of reading this book right now. It is very good so far.

Bish Denham said...

Yep, this is a book I want to read.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sounds intriguing.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Matt, you do awesome reviews. Thanks for sharing your insights!

Matthew Rush said...

Thanks Ishta. It's tough to review something like this, which I know a lot of us have read, but not all. It's hard because the story is of course what makes it great, but I can't go into that without being completely vague in an attempt to not spoil everything.

Paul Joseph said...

Beth's debut is getting stellar reviews across the board. I'll definitely be adding it to the 'to read' list.

L.G.Smith said...

I didn't win an ARC and I haven't read it, but I'm very intrigued. Sounds like my kind of novel.

Hannah Kincade said...

I enjoyed Across the Universe immensely. I was a little disappointed though as I had the mystery figured out early.

I still loved her writing and the way the story was told.

I wouldn't call it dystopic though. I would definitely call it science fiction.

Overall, I was very please and I hope that she writes more soon! I've had pretty good luck with all of the books I've read this year. Yay!

Jess said...

So excited to read this!

Shari said...

I'm having a "Breathless" giveaway on my blog soon. Her book was really well written and just might be part of the giveaway. ;)

Carolyn Abiad said...

Good points, Matt! I also notice details like that. Have you read House of the Scorpion? I kept referring to it in my mind as I was reading AtU.

LTM said...

hmm... it's on my nightstand. Sweet, sweet Carolyn (up there) got me a signed copy-! I lurv the cover also, and I dig light SciFi, so I can't wait to start it. The cover makes me think of "2001: A Space Odyssey," which is good and bad--LOL!

But I bet the book's all good. I'm actually very excited to read it! And this is a cool post about the details. Nerd. ;o) <3

Talli Roland said...

I haven't read it yet, so I really appreciate the review, and I really enjoyed that little snippet. I wonder if it's going to come out in the UK?

Austin James said...

I'll have to check it out. Looks interesting.

Robert Guthrie said...

Hats off again to the review-meister.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Excellent review. I'll have to add this on my list of to-reads.

Tere Kirkland said...

So many things to like about this book, the design is just the icing on the cake!

I really enjoyed the book and can't wait a year for the sequel.

Christina Lee said...

I am in the middle of it (and don't know who Steela is--yet)! Annd yes I agree about those specific details you mention that Penguin committed to help them launch it-I thought the same thing!

Very nice review!

Abby Minard said...

Great review! And I loved the book. You are spot on about all those details.

Jessica Bell said...

Sounds interesting. I'm really NOT a YA fan. You think I'd still enjoy it? You know the kinda stuff I'm into ...

Lenny Lee* said...

hi mr matthew! this book sounds really exciting. you said it for ya but could you think it could be for my age? i like space stories and that ship is soooo cool.
...hugs from lenny

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I shall keep my eyes peeled for a copy.

Nate Wilson said...

I would get this now, but I'm still in the middle of another book you recommended. Patience, Matthew. Patience.

Colene Murphy said...

Awe crud! I didn't even look at the details that closely! Now going to have to when I get home. Thanks for the heads up!!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

I never noticed all that about the cover! Really cool! What an observant eye you have. Although I went into a bookstore in San Francisco and found all the books with the cover on the other way--the ship map on the outside. It was pretty neat!

Great review, Matt! Such a great book!

N. R. Williams said...

I am impressed. The publisher obviously has tagged this book as a winner or they wouldn't have troubled with so many small details. I will have to read it.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

Copyboy said...

Yeah the beatles quote definitely is very, very cool. Mind you not as cool as a quote from Carson Daley, but a close second. I'll have to check it out.

Kristine Asselin said...

Great review! I finished ATU a couple weeks ago, and I'm still thinking about it. I love science fiction--and this is a good one.

ali said...

Wow Matthew, what a thoughtful and unique perspective. I really enjoyed reading it! I loved the book, but you gave me even more to think about. Thanks!