It took me a long time to get to Across the Universe. Not because I wasn't interested—HELLO, SPACE OPERA MURDER MYSTERY—but because over a year ago, I started listening to the audiobook, and I HAD ISSUES.
Not with the story or the writing, but with something entirely out of the author's control: I had issues with the reader. Or, well, with one of them, since the audiobook actually has two narrators.
Lauren Ambrose—you may know her from Six Feet Under, Diggers, or Psycho Beach Party—went in a really... THROBBY direction, interpretation-wise, and while it actually made sense in terms of the character and situation, her habit of putting a mini-sob into every other word was a tad grating. (The only person who gets a free pass in that department is Dwight Yoakam.)
So, anyway, it's taken me this long to get over myself and actually read the book. And DAMN, now that I've actually read the whole thing, I'm totally glad I have the sequel on deck.
Across the Universe is narrated by two characters: the first is Amy, who is cryogenically frozen along with her parents and loaded onto a spaceship headed to colonize a new planet. Since the trip is expected to last three hundred years—hence the freezing—all of the colonists (mostly a mix of military personnel and scientists) will be woken upon arrival, while those who run the ship will live out their entire lives on it, passing their responsibilities down to the next generation, the next, and the next. Elder, our second narrator, was born some 250 years after Amy, has lived his entire life on the ship, and is next in line to lead it.
Something goes wrong, though—well, more than just 'goes wrong', as it was done deliberately—and Amy wakes up decades early. Even discounting the fact that she's on a spaceship, the world she wakes into is nothing like the world she fell asleep in—the rules, the technology, the culture, even human behavior seems to have completely changed—and her looks and speech and behavior seem just as bizarre to the ship's populace. And none of that even takes into account the man currently in charge of the ship: Eldest, a man who believes that Adolf Hitler was a 'wise, cultured leader'.
Even without Lauren Ambrose's throbby delivery, Amy isn't an immediately likable heroine: she's more of a runner-awayer than a go-getter, and more of a moaner and complainer than an argumentative debater. HOWEVER. That doesn't mean that she's not believable—just the opposite, in fact, she's extremely believable. She's far more realistic than any number of badass, quippy, special snowflake protagonists, because she really does read like an Regular Girl in an Extraordinary Situation.
AND, when push comes to shove, she does take action, and she does make sacrifices for the greater good. She cries a lot while she does it, but she does it. Which, for me, actually makes her a stronger, more interesting character than any of those BQSSs—because none of this comes easily to her. It always feels like she has to overcome not only the situations she's in, not only the prejudice of the people she's surrounded by, but also her own fear.
I had one part of the mystery figured out pretty early on, but that turned out not to matter... because OH MY GOD, THE PLOT TWISTS. As I learned more and more about the truth of life on the ship Godspeed, I started getting vocal. Vocal as in, "WHAT. OH MY GOD, THAT JUST HAPPENED. THAT IS SO MESSED UP. WHAAAAAAAAT. WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT." In a GOOD way. Surprise after surprise after surprise, and I am so very much looking forward to A Million Suns.
Bonus points: I assume (?) that the number of Amy's freezer compartment—42—was a nod to Douglas Adams. Which is awesome. Actually, even if it's a coincidence, it's awesome. BECAUSE WHAT A COINCIDENCE THAT WOULD BE. There's also a character named Luthe, which I'm inclined to think is a reference to Robin McKinley's Luthe, but as Revis' character is d-bag wannabe rapist asshat, I could be mistaken.
Full disclosure: Although we've never met in person, Beth Revis and I have interacted quite a bit online over the years. (Also, she's purchased stuff from my Etsy shop.)
Book source: Finished copy from the publisher.