Science Fiction is an easy genre to screw up, simply because while it's easy to create fiction, the science isn't always there. Teen fiction is an easy genre to screw up because while you're writing for a certain audience, you also have to try and keep your fingers on the pulse of a rather fickle demographic. To combine the two is a tricky situation, because if done wrong it can irrevocably trigger animosity of the highest regard. (I'm looking at you, Ms. Meyer.) Needless to say a lot of authors get it wrong, and we have a marketplace flooded with stories of how some plain teenage girl is in love with a mythical beast and how her life is going to change because of it. (The Oatmeal has a comic covering this exact phenomenon.) However if you do it right, then you'll have something that ranges from "a decent read" to "excellent beyond expectation". Across the Universe is the first Teen Fiction book I've read from someone not names John Green that has given me hope for the genre, as it masterfully blends both genres into something that reads as wonderfully as it sounds.
Amy Martin is part of an expedition to another planet...a planet not unlike Earth. It's sometime in the future, and things are pretty frakked. So much so that we've decided to build a generational ship, freeze the essential crew (plus one non-essential family member, Amy herself), and ship them out into the deepest reaches of space on a 301 year mission. Not a lot of fun, especially when James Cameron got cryo sleep wrong in Avatar. Not only do you dream, you dream so much that you tire of dreams. Unfortunately for Amy, she's going to be woken from her dreams about 50 years early, and under mysterious circumstances. When awoken she meets a boy around her age by the name of Elder, the future leader of the colonists aboard the Godspeed. Under the tutelage of Eldest, he will learn to lead strong, lead fair, and lead without hesitation. Or love. Naturally these two join forces and not only try to solve the mysterious de-frostings, but also the most elusive force of nature ever: teenage hormones.
For a debut author, Beth Revis knows not to overdo the romance or the Sci Fi aspects of her story, thus widening her audience appeal. By being a more inclusive writer, Revis makes Sci Fi geeks, Teen Romance geeks, and casual readers feel so comfortable and invested in her world that they can hardly tell which genre is taking focus at the time. And thank gods she wrote her characters like actual people! Gone is the neutered teenager from the moment Elder sees Amy naked under the ice. He knows he's attracted, and his mind starts to wander toward some rather naughty thoughts. (Nothing too bad though, this IS YA lit after all.)
Perhaps the most telling aspect of Ms. Revis's story telling is the usage of split perspectives. Each chapter alternates between Amy and Elder's perspectives, ultimately weaving the story together so well that while the point of view changes, the story flows perfectly. The only negative beat I'd give this book is the ending. There's a big revelation as to the plot of the book, and it's fine that we find out what that twist is. It's just the revelation of the twist between characters could have been saved for the next book in the proposed trilogy. All she had to do is end it with the twist being revealed to us, and we'd get a nice cliffhanger to latch onto for the next book. Nevertheless, it's not a big enough gripe to spoil the enjoyment of this fine book.
Across the Universe makes me further believe that Teen fiction isn't just a wasteland of neutered, brainless shells for readers to populate and live vicariously romantic lives through. It's books like this that make me feel literature in general is still very much alive and kicking. In the parlance of the book's society, anyone who doesn't at least read the first few chapters of this book is a frexing idiot.
Next Up: Here's the Situation: A Guide to Creeping on Chicks, Avoiding Grenades, and Getting in Your GTL on the Jersey Shore by Mike Sorentino with Chris Mills