Where do you go when you die? When the characters in Gabrielle Zevin’s book Elsewhere die, they travel to a land called Elsewhere, where they live their lives backwards, becoming younger each year until they are reborn and return to Earth.
Liz Marie Hall is the main character in this intriguing book; like every other fifteen year old girl, she cannot wait for prom, and the ideal man to come and sweep her off her feet. Zevin adds a shocking twist when Liz is hit and killed by a taxi cab driver on her way to shop for the perfect prom dress in the opening pages.
Zevin creates a strange magical transition from life to death, when she has Liz wake from what she thinks is a vivid dream, to find herself on a boat in the middle of an ocean. Liz is summoned to the observation deck by a letter saying, “Dear Passenger Hall, Your presence is requested: Observation Deck Binoculars #219 NOW!” Liz is stunned as she watches her own funeral through the binoculars. She is dead on Earth and is now in the afterlife traveling to an unknown destination.
When the ship stops at a place called Elsewhere, Liz meets her Grandma Betty. It becomes impossible to not be drawn into the intensity of Liz’s emotions, when Grandma Betty helps Liz unravel the astonishing realities of living in Elsewhere. Liz is enraged when she realizes it is the opposite of living on Earth. Each year a person becomes one year younger instead of growing one year older. When Liz comprehends she will never turn sixteen, her pain becomes palpable as she explodes, “I’LL NEVER GO TO COLLEGE OR GET MARRIED OR GET BIG BOOBS OR LIVE ON MY OWN OR FALL IN LOVE OR GET MY DRIVER’S LICENCE OR ANYTHING? I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS!”
This book is captivating and keeps readers on the edge of their seats begging for the next hint about how Liz will adjust to her new life in Elsewhere. Liz begins to make new friends and falls madly in love with handsome young Owen Wells. Zevin allows Liz to experience intense happiness until Emily, Owens’s wife, arrives in Elsewhere from Earth, creating a riveting dilemma that forces Owen to choose between his beloved wife, Emily, or Liz, the new love of his life. Zevin’s style of writing captures the elations and sorrows of first love, while spinning a tale that accurately illustrates the feelings of a fifteen-year-old girl experiencing the intensity of budding love.
Zevin takes readers on an enthralling adventure using delicate pacing to reveal the mysteries of Liz’s strengths and the vulnerability of her flaws. Her character continues to mature and develop a better understanding of the life she lived on Earth and the life she will once again begin on her arrival back to Earth. Elsewhere revolves around the theme of reincarnation and the belief that a person can be reborn. This is shown throughout the book as the characters struggle to accept their death and adjust to an afterlife that will once again prepare them for their return to Earth. The subject of aging and dying is approached with a new freshness that makes this book a must-read for teens as well as adults.
Review by Jamie B., Uni High School
by Gabrielle Zevin