Monday, 13 April 2015

Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Publisher: Razorbill
Pub Date: 11/01/2011
Genre: YA science fiction
Pages: 398
Rating: 3.5

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder. 

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone - one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship - tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

I've been waiting to read this book for ages, after seeing Aylee recommend it over at Recovering Potter Addict years ago. This one I went into knowing it’s a trilogy, even though I’m so, so sick of series and trilogies in particular. I think it’s similar to downloadable content for gamers – I don’t want to pay extra just to finish the story. Of course, this depends – something like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games couldn’t really have been in one book, but a lot of YA books suffer from second-book syndrome, where nothing happens in the second book of the trilogy because it’s essentially just a placeholder.

Anyway, it remains to be seen whether that’s the case with the next two books of this trilogy, so I’ll just focus on the one I’ve actually read for now. That would probably help.


So, seventeen-year-old Amy’s parents are boarding a generation ship, which is heading on a 300-year interstellar voyage to Centauri-Earth for some reason. Her father is sixth-in-command of the military, and her mother is a bioengineer, so those two are essential for the mission. She decides to accompany them even though she’s “non-essential”, so is flash-frozen alongside them and put into the ship, Godspeed to sleep through the next 300 years.

But she’s woken up by an attempted murder 250 years later and defrosted. She can’t go back to sleep or she might never wake up, so she’s on the strange ship without anyone she knew. Only – surprise! – since this is a generation ship, there are (I think) 2,312 people living and reproducing there. She makes friends with the leader-in-training, Elder, and his friend and painter, Harley.

Then lots of shenanigans happen and many secrets are revealed.

The story is told in first-person, rotating between Elder and Amy every second chapter. It’s interesting to see their different perspectives, and the secrets they keep from each other.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Across the Universe. The world-building is very impressive, but still lacking in some ways (e.g. I still don’t know why the ship left Earth).

It’s way too YA-romantic, with insta-love and everything. I could’ve done without the romance.

Still, there’s an entire world inside that ship, and good explanations are offered for everything. The secrets are interesting, but only one of them made me physically react – maybe I wasn’t bonded enough to the characters. There’s a sense of the universe’s apathy, as sad things happen without reason. Also, if you’re sensitive about rape or suicide, you may want to give this one a miss. But that’s not really a spoiler, and the two topics are approached in unique ways that made them fascinating (though sad) to read about.

Themes of filial piety, destiny and coming of age are explored, all coalescing in the last couple of scenes. I’m having difficulty explaining why, but I felt like it was sort of Shakespearian, the climactic scene. I guess it makes sense, since the author is an English teacher. Just like with the last book I reviewed though (If I Stay) I was dissatisfied with the ending. I’m not as angry with this one as I was with the last one, because it was a lot longer so that cushions the fall, but the ending was still fairly open.

Also, THERE WERE NO PAGE NUMBERS. Now, this could just have been in my edition, but that makes me mad. How was I supposed to remember where I was if I left the book down? Hey, maybe it was a ploy to make the book unputdownable.

Still. I didn’t quite form attachments as deep as I would’ve liked to the characters, and it just feels like there was something lacking. But I will probably read the sequels, and I have to admit that it’s an impressive and imaginative book. 

Monday, 6 April 2015

Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Publisher: Speak
Pub Date: 01/01/09
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 210
Rating: 3.5 

On a day that started like any other, Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices.

 In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she'll ever make.

Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving.

This review could’ve been different. It didn’t have to be this way.

I was really enjoying If I Stay by Gayle Forman. The writing was exquisite, the characters unique, and I was driven close to tears at points. I was so engaged, compelled to wonder what would happen next and how the narrator’s dilemma would be resolved.

And then the author screwed me over.

Let me backtrack a bit.

So, teenage cellist Mia is on a snowy drive with her parents and little brother when a truck crashes into them. The parents die instantly, and she and her brother Teddy are taken to hospital in critical condition. Mia is in a coma, but her spirit/ghost/soul is aware and follows her body around, though she can’t interact with the world. I guess that’s comforting for those with friends in a coma.

The whole story takes place over a couple of days with a lot of flashbacks and introspection, so most of the action is Mia’s body having various operations and panic stations, and all the people she knows coming in to talk to her and ask her to come out of the coma. Mia’s spirit can wander wherever, so she sees her best friend Kim and boyfriend Adam planning ways to break into the ward and sees the outside world that way.

I really liked the flashbacks. With that short a timeframe, they were necessary to have a book-length work (more on that later). They mostly focus on her boyfriend, her family and music (specifically the cello and her growing proficiency at it as she picks it up as a kid, then goes to classical music summer camps – while Kim is at Jewish camp – and finally auditions for Juilliard). Hang on, I just realised that if she survives, she might be so mangled she’ll be unable to go to Juilliard. That’s sad.

She has a really good relationship with her parents (maybe a bit unrealistic, but nice to read). Her parents both used to be rockers, but her mother is now a housewife and her father an English teacher. We see another iteration of Ditzy Father Syndrome – he didn’t learn to drive until the second child (Teddy). It is a charming family, though.

Anyway, soon enough after the accident, she realises that this spirit of hers has the power to decide whether or not she stays. She weighs up the options – live with her friends but as an orphan, or die with her family? There’s a very touching moment nearish the end where Kim whispers to her that all her friends and non-immediate relatives are waiting downstairs and that “You still have a family.” We see her being swayed different ways by hearing different people talking, and this really got me thinking and seriously trying to figure out what she should do given the available – well, not evidence, but information. Sort of like an emotional detective story.

Here’s where the screwing over comes in. When I’m really enjoying a book but I’m nearing a bit where I’m afraid the author might choose to end it, I take a quick look to see how many pages are left. I was reassured here because there was around a fifth of the book left … and then I turned the page and it said THE END.

You know what was behind that page? Acknowledgements! And background information like the reasoning behind music choices, which I was too insulted to read! For like forty pages! I’d expect to see that sort of thing in fanfiction, not in a published novel.

What had just happened was what might happen 60% of the way through a novel, going by classic techniques or whatever. A sign of hope that doesn’t give away the ending.

It’s absolutely inappropriate for an actual ending!

The book is a measly 210 pages, and the worst part is that the story isn’t even remotely finished. Even as a reader, I could say (broadly) what should happen next.

Oh, and surprise surprise – there’s a sequel. A sequel called Where She Went. Okay, not only is that a massive spoiler, it’s totally inaccurate and doesn’t follow the first book, which is – I’m pretty sure – the entire point of a sequel.
Then again, it’d be difficult to follow the total non-ending of that book.

Look, it might not be the author’s fault. The writing was beautiful, and it does seem like something a publisher might choose to do for commercial purposes (especially going by the movie). But I can’t think of anything that could’ve happened in the book that would have pissed me off more.