The young adult science-fiction trilogy, Across the Universe
(2011), by Beth Revis, follows a teenage girl’s voyage through space when she is preaturely unfrozen after hundreds of years of cryogenic stasis. American author Beth Revis was inspired to write these novels by growing up in a small farm town; she wanted to export that experience into space. This was Revis's first YA novel, who was formerly an English teacher. The novel's themes include love, valor in the face of dogmatic thinking, and curiosity to explore beyond one’s social parameters.
The novel begins with 17-year-old Amy and her parents preparing to enter a cryogenic chamber that will freeze them for the next 300 years, and allow them to live on a spaceship called Godspeed
. The process begins with Amy's mother being injected with an incredibly painful blue substance that will strengthen the walls of her cells so the ice doesn’t destroy her.
Amy's mother is an expert in genetic splicing, which will be essential for food development on the new planet humans hope to inhabit. Her father is also needed, as he’s a prominent military leader with great organizational abilities. To join this intergalactic mission has been her parents'dream for a long time, but Amy is neither crucial to the mission nor particularly interested in learning more about space, and before her father is frozen, she debates whether or not she should join them.
Amy does join them, which turns out to be a good decision as life on earth is hard, thanks to global warming and unemployment. As the freezing fluid fills her chamber, Amy overhears two technicians talking about how the launch has been delayed for a year. This is terrible news for Amy, because it means she could have had one more year living with her boyfriend, Jason, but it’s too late to reverse decision and she becomes a block of ice. She is one of 100 frozen passengers on board the spaceship.
Hundreds of years in the future, Godspeed
has hundreds of living passengers who are meant to maintain the ship’s flight trajectory and breed every two decades. Two of their descendants are called Elder and Eldest. Elder is a teenager and Eldest is an older man. Eldest is the current leader, and later, Elder will take his place.
Despite his name, 16-year-old Elder is the youngest person on the ship. Elder holds reservations about Eldest: he has seen him act like a smiling politician to all the inhabitants of the ship, while privately cursing them under his breath. Eldest also dislikes Elder because the last boy in the Elder position tried to rebel against Eldest and had to be killed.Across the Universe
alternates between the first person narrative voice of Amy and Elder.
Through Elder’s initial narration, the reader learns more about the ship. The top level of the ship is called The Keeper Level; only Elder and Eldest have access to this level . Below it is the engine room, also known as the Shipper Level, because all of the scientists and other white-collar workers are employed there. Beneath that is the largest level: the Feeder Level. This area is mostly composed of rolling farmland, mills, and ranch style houses. On the other side of the “town,” are all the important government buildings, including the school and hospital.
Elder has recently been promoted and has gained access to the Keeper level. Without Eldest’s permission, Elder enters the Keeper Level and is confronted by a giant screen of stars. Believing that he has somehow made the ship crack open, he prepares to sacrifice himself. But soon, he realizes the stars are actually just intricate lightbulbs designed to maintain the happiness levels of those working down below. At first, Eldest is irate that Elder has crossed him, but he soon praises Elder for his willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the ship.
Eldest teaches Elder that he must maintain order on the ship by ensuring that everyone on the ship is obsequious to him; total submission to the head commander is the only way, in Eldest’s view, that the ship will reach Centauri-Earth, which happens to be just 50 years away.
Meanwhile, Amy reports what’s it like to be cryogenically frozen through centuries. She’s basically half-asleep for the entire process; she’s far more aware of things going around her than people told her would be the case. Most of her time is spent missing simple things on earth, like flowers.
Through Amy’s thoughts, the reader learns that humans on earth planned to colonize a planet called Centauri-Earth, in another solar system that was more stable that their own; this was also a stellar way to make more money.
One day, Elder, acting on a tip from a mysterious librarian named Orion, stumbles upon the cryogenic chamber in the basement level of the ship, an area he never knew existed. He sees Amy and instantly falls in love with her. Unlike everyone else on the ship, who is programmed to have light brown skin, Amy has white skin and red hair. He asks his superiors who these frozen people are, but they reprimand him and tell him to mind his own business.
Soon afterwards, someone disrupts Amy’s freezing process and she begins to thaw. She nearly dies, but is saved by the ship’s doctor--known as Doc--and Elder. Amy is horrified that she has woken up 50 years before her parents will; this means she will be older than they are when they hit Centauri-Earth.
Amy has a tough time fitting into life on the ship. It doesn’t help that Eldest has told everyone to avoid her. The people on the ship lack emotion and there’s nothing to do. The only people who seem to have a normal range of human emotions are placed in a psychiatric ward. Amy discovers that from a young age, people take inhibitor pills that make them easier for Eldest to control.
As the days pass, other Frozen are mysteriously unplugged. Some survive, but not all. Amy believes the person responsible for unplugging the Frozen is attacking everyone associated with the military, and she infers that her father’s life is in danger.
One day, Orion is revealed to be a former Elder, who was supposed to be killed for treason. In a rage, he kills Eldest.
Amy and Elder learn that Orion has also been unplugging all frozen military personnel, believing that they would encourage an authoritarian regime on the new planet. Elder has Orion frozen, for the time being.
As the new commander of Godspeed
, Elder – now in the position of Eldest – orders that everyone stop taking drugs, and, with Amy’s help, draws up blueprints for a free and fair society on Centauri Earth.