Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Welcome to Elsewhere. It is warm, with a breeze, and the beaches are marvelous. It’s quiet and peaceful. You can’t get sick or any older. Curious to see new paintings by Picasso? Swing by one of Elsewhere’s museums. Need to talk to someone about your problems? Stop by Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatric practice. Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, not fourteen again. She wants to get her driver’s license. She wants to graduate from high school and go to college. And now that she’s dead, Liz is being forced to live a life she doesn’t want with a grandmother she has only just met. And it is not going well. How can Liz let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward?
Fifteen year old Liz Hall awakes to find herself, quite mysteriously, on a ship in the middle of the ocean. She has no idea how she’s gotten there or even where the ship is headed, but she’s certain it’s a very vivid, very odd dream.
Uno problemo: Liz isn’t dreaming. As she wanders through the SS Nile she finds many other passengers—though most are far older than she—all who want to know what brought her there. It takes time for Liz to realize that all the occupants of this ship have died. She vaguely recalls an accident on her bike, a taxicab that seemed to come out of nowhere, and finally awaking on this ship.
As the Nile arrives at its only stop, Elsewhere, Liz is understandably shaken. She wants to live. She wants to go home, and although Elsewhere looks an awful lot like Earth, her mom and dad, her sweet little brother and her best friend aren’t there. They’re back home, back where she wants to be.
Elsewhere is an oddly peaceful place. Life is much like it is on Earth. People have jobs and friends. They sleep and eat. They fall in love. They can view their loved ones back on Earth through special telescopes, but never are they allowed to contact them. And perhaps the oddest thing is that everyone in Elsewhere ages backward until it is time for them to return to Earth in reincarnated form. Liz begins to acclimate to life in Elsewhere, first experiencing a state of depression, but finally reaching a place of contentment and, shockingly, happiness. Her Grandma Betty, who died before she was born, helps her along. She makes new friends, has a great job and even has a little something going on with her crushworthy friend, Owen. It’s all so bittersweet—missing her old life, enjoying her new one.
I liked this book. It was a touch whimsical and sweet, but it was balanced by an overall melancholy tone, ultimately because it is narrated by a young girl who has died. There is no getting around that. The range of emotions Liz experiences when she first arrives in Elsewhere, and later as she moves on, feel like the normal grieving process we experience when losing a loved one. In this case, Liz has not only lost her life, she has lost every single person who has ever been dear to her. She’s grieving the things she has yet to experience and the hopes she may not see fulfilled. And all the while, she’s growing attached to her life in Elsewhere, a life that is equally as temporary as her life on Earth was.
Whatever your personal beliefs are regarding the afterlife, it’s a pretty magical story.
Crush Intensity: 3.75-4/5 I think Gabrielle Zevin is a gifted writer, willing to tackle interesting issues that aren’t completely commonplace in YA, without being way out in left field. As with her other novel, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, she manged to convey a story with a lot of heart. It’s not one I’d read over and over, because it was sad, but it was good.