Monday, April 7, 2014


elsewhere is a young adult book written by Gabrielle Zevin. It was published by Squarefish in 2005.

A couple of days after finishing The Giver, I was perusing the library to find the next book I wanted to read.  I was looking through the fantasy section, hoping something would pop out at me.  When I saw the book elsewhere, I knew this was the next read for me.  I found it interesting that its title word was so often mentioned in The Giver, and it is for that reason that I chose this book to read.

elsewhere is about the journey Elizabeth (Liz) Hall had after she was hit by a taxi when crossing the street.  It is split into five parts:
                 Prologue: In the End,
                 Part I: The Nile
                 Part II: The Book of the Dead
                 Part III: Antique Lands
                 Epilogue: In the Beginning

The prologue is narrated by Liz's dog, Lucy. Through Lucy's ramblings, we can determine that Liz has died and her family, including her younger brother Alvy, as well as Lucy, is missing her terribly.  Lucy was Liz's dog, and has not been taken very good care of since Liz's passing.  "The next day the mother takes Lucy to the dog park.  It's the first time anyone has remembered to walk Lucy since the end." While reading the prologue, my initial thought was, "Oh, goodness, not another book from an animal's perspective." Luckily for me, the rest of the book was in third person narration, which I thought was a better choice for this story. 

Liz 'wakes up' on a boat, on her way to Elsewhere.  She doesn't realize what has happened to her yet and feels as though she is in a dream. She has a roommate, Thandi, and they explore the ship together.  While at breakfast, they also find a former rock star, Curtis Jest.  Thandi has a bullet hole in her head and Curtis' arm was deteriorating from the drugs he had taken while alive.  Both of them had now figured out they were dead, but Liz still believed it was a dream.  She started to remember what had happened to her -- being hit by a taxi cab while she rode her bike across the street to the mall -- but assumed it was all part of her dream.  She didn't take it well when she figured out she was dead.  "Suddenly, Liz needs to sit down.  She is cold and breathless.  'Thandi, I need to know how you got the hole in your head.'"  After Thandi explained her situation, Liz goes on, "Are you sure you aren't dreaming all of this? I'm sorry, I"m just trying to figure everything out." Thandi lets out a long, plaintive sigh, 'Girl, you are in denial,' she said."

Once Liz realizes she is dead, she tries to figure out a way to go back to earth.  She is not successful, and must move on to Elsewhere, where she is met by her grandmother, Betty, who had died when Liz was not yet born.  This is when Liz, and the readers, realize the afterlife is not exactly what was expected. In Elsewhere, death is very similar to life.  You can drive, swim, eat, drink, sleep and even fall in love.  What makes it different is you cannot get mortally hurt and you age backwards. Whatever age you enter Elsewhere is the number of years you will live there.  As time goes on, you get younger, until you are again a baby and are 'released' back to earth for another life (again -- a connection to The Giver.  How ironic that in The Giver, release is death, while in elsewhere, it is life.)

When Liz arrives at Elsewhere, she is incredibly depressed and only wants to watch her family and friends from the Observation Deck.  She is able to watch them in 5 minute increments, and this is all she does for the first month of her death.  She also learns that there is a 'well' at the bottom of the ocean, where one could try to make contact with the living.  She desperately wants her father to know that she had a hidden birthday present for him, so she dove down to the well to reach him.  She was able to reach her brother, but he didn't quite understand her message.  Before she could try again, she was caught by the Elsewhere Police Detective, Owen Welles. 

Owen is the person who helps Liz get through her depression and move on in death. He convinced her to take a job, learn to drive and enjoy the time they had together.  Eventually, they fall in love.  Although they are aging backwards, they spend all of their time together, until Liz's fifteen years in Elsewhere were up, and she was 'released' back to earth for another go-around.

There is much more I could write in the summary, but wanted to only hit the most important parts.  What I find most important is that this class has changed my perception when reading.  Pre-Diversity in Children's Literature Rebecca would have enjoyed reading this book.  She would have thought it was a cute idea for a story and the setting or storyline wouldn't have bothered her at all.  Post-Diversity in Children's Literature Rebecca is annoyed with this book, or at least, how some of the book was written.  I did not find it to be believable and found some of the rules of Elsewhere didn't make sense.  Elsewhere was just like life, only after death.  It didn't make sense to me that the people still ate and breathed and had beating hearts.  They're dead.  Another question that arose as I was reading was about the Observation Deck. People had to buy time to watch their family, but they could buy 5 minutes or 500 minutes, and it was the same price. That just didn't make sense to me.  Why would anyone buy 5 minutes when they could get any number of minutes for the same price?  Another idea I couldn't buy was the idea of them falling in love.  After Liz and Owen fell in love, Owen's wife from earth died and came to Elsewhere.  He left Liz and allowed his wife to move in with him, only to later realize that their new age difference (he had died at 26, and been dead 10 years, so with her aging normally, she was now 36, and with him aging backwards, he was 16) made things very hard for them and they were two different people than who they were when he died. He got back with Liz, and as he continued to grow younger, his once wife not treated him like she was his babysitter. The whole idea was just unsettling to me.

What I did find interesting is that the author doesn't care about the after-life.  At the end of the book, it gives responses to questions she was asked. One question was "What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?" Her answer was, "Assuming they'd read elsewhere, they'd probably be surprised to know how much I don't care about the after-life. The way I really feel about it is 'que sera, sera.'"  That was surprising since many authors write about things that are personal to them or they have an interest in.

elsewhere has many mixed reviews.  If you would like to read what others thought about it before deciding whether to read it or not, you can go to Goodreads.  If you think you'll enjoy it, you can find a copy of the book at WorldCat

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