(I got a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
I had planned on reading Across the Universe ages ago, yet never got to it. Instead, I got to this one—which, from what I understand, very loosely alludes to the former. I can confirm, in any case, that not having read Beth Revis's trilogy won't be a problem here: the present novel is a standalone, and previous knowledge isn't mandatory to follow its plot. Although I guess that, like me, you'll miss a few Easter Eggs.
The story follows Ella, a girl from Malta, who struggles daily to come to terms with how sick her mother is, struck with a degenerative disease for which there is no cure. The only "cure" so far has been developed by Ella's father; unfortunately, his death put a stop to any improvement in that regard. As a way of relieving some of her pain, Ella's mother (a scientist as well) has created the Reverie, a system that allows people to relive their best, happiest memories in a dream-like state. But what's been used so far as a recreational machine only has the potential to be so much more, especially after Ella realises she can link to a "dreamer", and enter his/her Reverie to spy on and/or manipulate it.
We're given to see the world through Ella's prism, which is at times a narrow one, focused, as mentioned above, on what's left of her family, and also her best friend Akilah (when they manage to communicate with each other, because the other girl is currently serving in the army). Information and world-building are thus done little by little; it's a method I tend to prefer to large info-dumps, so depending on a reader's preferences here, it may be a very good thing, or a problem. What I can say: I didn't feel it difficult to get the bigger idea, even though there were moments I would have want to learn just a little more about the rest of the world, most specificically the "secessionist", possibly "terrorism-infested" countries. This aspect made the novel feel like your average YA dystopia, but somewhat seemed both exploited and left on the side of the road at the same time.
I found Ella's quest in general interesting, raising many questions regarding who you can trust, how can you be sure you can trust them, who is who, whether conscience resides in the brain or in the body or is yet something even more impossible to grasp. There were a few nice twists in the book about that. I just regretted the scientific aspect behind those, behind the technologies developed, wasn't given more of an explanation—I'm not particularly a hardcore fan of hard-science SF, but I like having a little more meat on the bones, so to speak.
Another good thing about Ella: she wasn't the average girl-falls-for-boy YA heroine. When an unknown, handsome but somehow dangerous-looking guy grasps her wrist to "warn" her about something, she doesn't fall for his looks, she doesn't immediately trust him: no, she punches him, which is a reaction far healthier than a lot of crap I've read in novels with similar characters. She looks for him for answers, but she does so knowing she may have to betray him afterwards; she's ready to use him, not because she's deeply manipulative, but because she's wary, and aware that if she doesn't do it, she might fall into a trap. After all, she doesn't know him, while he keeps claiming the contrary: isn't that fishy? Those reactions don't necessarily make for a very likeable character at first, but they seemed to me definitely more believable than girl-falls-in-love-in-five-minutes. (Also there are tinges of insta-love, but they make sense... only explaining why would mean revealing too much.)
About the writing: the author delivers compelling chapters, and avoids the typical pit traps of weird metaphors (I've seen my share of those in YA lately...) and purple prose. This works pretty well in a no-nonsense way, and fits with the science fiction aspect.
The last chapters play a little too much on convenient happenings, which spoilt a little my enjoyment of the book. But overall, while not exceptional, I liked it.