In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Across the Universe

Dear Annie,

Today I acted out a variation on what NPR calls a "driveway moment."  I've been listening to an audio book in the car -- as I almost always do when I don't have passengers.  Most of my driving consists of the 20 minute ride to and from work these days, which means it can take a while to get through a thick YA novel.  So today, when I was about eight hours into it, I popped the book out of the CD player and brought it home to listen to the last hour and a half because I needed to know how it came out.

The book is
Across the Universe
, by Beth Revis.  It's a heavily-marketed book which crosses many genres -- mystery, sci-fi, dystopian fantasy, even a little romance (although not as much as one of the covers implies).  Part of the marketing plan is a reversible book jacket, so that it can sell across all those genres.  I just discovered the book jacket thing today -- it cheered me up.  The one on the right is a cross-section of a spaceship that's been traveling for centuries.  All the action is in the spaceship, whose thousands of residents live in a classic over-controlled-for-your-own-good society.  One of the things I like about this book is that we learn the origins and motivations of the repressive regime, and on one level, their actions are understandable.  Into this completely closed world arrives a teenage girl, who's been there all along, but as part of a cargo of frozen people who are supposed to stay frozen until the ship reaches a distant planet.  She's mysteriously thawed out in what may be a murder attempt and rescued by the teenage boy who's being groomed to be the next autocratic leader of the ship.  Both teenagers narrate the action in alternating chapters. 

Revis has created a vivid picture of life inside a big metal ship -- one definitely identifies with the claustrophobic reaction of Amy, the recently-revived person.  Most residents are a mysteriously passive workforce; the obviously intelligent and creative people live mainly in a mental hospital.  Part of population control has to do with sex drive being chemically manipulated: everyone believes that humans have mating seasons like animals -- and when "the season" arrives, coupling couples are everywhere.  There's one horrific attempted rape scene.  The controlled society is built on layers of untruths: everything from mating seasons to self-serving re-writing of history.  Elder, the leader-in-training, discovers lies and secrets throughout the book, fueling his adolescent anger at the current leader/father figure.

This books doesn't have the depth of, say, The Knife of Never Letting Go, of which, as you know, I'm quite fond.  But it really pulls you in, and given that the humans are stuck inside of a space ship for centuries, it opens a lot of questions about how to structure a functioning society.  It's got a few twists at the end -- and lots of set-up for book #2 of what will eventually be a trilogy.



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