(A/N: Mild spoilers for Beth Revis’s Across the Universe series)
Imagine you had the opportunity to help colonize a new planet located hundreds of light-years away. This would involve saying goodbye forever to everyone and everything you know and love on Earth, being cryogenically frozen for centuries, and shipped off into the stars.
Would you go?*
This question is brought to you by a dystopian young adult sci-fi series dealing with this very subject: Beth Revis’s Across the Universe trilogy. This trilogy includes Across the Universe, A Million Suns, and the final book of the series – Shades of Earth – which I read back in February.
The Across the Universe series centers on two main characters. One is Amy, a 17-year-old cryogenically frozen girl aboard a generation ship (Godspeed) on a 300-year journey for a planet in the Alpha-Centauri system – a girl who is mysteriously awoken from cryo 50 years early.
The other character is 16-year-old Elder – the future leader of Godspeed’s inhabitants (second to Eldest) – who, with Amy’s help, comes to understand how things on the ship are not as they seem, and prematurely ascends to leadership as a result.
Shades of Earth (along with the other two books in the series) were interesting reads for me as a writer, for though I really enjoyed them, every aspect I liked (tight, suspenseful narration; interesting portrayal of life on a generation ship; killer plot twists; exciting story premise) was matched with something I simultaneously didn’t like (identical-sounding first-person narration for Amy and Elder; character secrets that were dragged out too long; the requisite dystopian YA rebellion).
And then there’s my biggest gripe of all, which extends to all the YA books I’ve read to date: I dislike how teenage characters are put in charge of situations that are utterly ludicrous for someone that age.
“Young” first, “adult” (a distant) second
I get that I’m meant to suspend my disbelief, and that as a 34-year-old adult, I’m not exactly the YA genre’s target audience. But there are 1456 people from babies to seniors aboard Godspeed when 16-year-old Elder assumes command of the ship and becomes the head of their society.
Call me ageist if you want, but if I’d been abroad that ship, even if Elder had trained for leadership from childhood (earlier childhood), just by virtue of my having been alive twice as long as him, I’d consider myself more qualified for the job. Especially given that setting up a new civilization on an alien planet isn’t an inherently youth-focused endeavour.
You’ve gotta have some life skills for that shit! I’m talking less of this…
…and more of this…
(Hell, I’d even settle for this if he promised to keep his famously wandering hands to himself.)
Yet if Elder were in his early 20s, while it might still chafe to be led by someone so much younger, if he knew what he was about and behaved confidently, I’d be more willing to give it a shot.
And how much more powerful a story would that make: a character just coming into true adulthood, struggling to understand all that that entails, and forced to become a leader to his people at the same time.
Young adult with actual adults
“New adult” is a new genre I’ve rather unimaginatively heard referred to as “young adult with sex”. Bor-ring!
Yes, NA can contain explicit sex. Overall, though, I believe NA’s true defining characteristic will be plots hinging in one way or another on the protagonist being neither a youthful ingénue anymore nor an experienced, commanding adult, and the myriad challenges that lie within such an inchoate state.
Those are certainly the types of NA stories I’ll be seeking out.
*I would. Though my mother would kill me.