Zevin, G. (2005). Elsewhere. New York: Holtzbrinck Publishers. ISBN: 9780312367466.
"I'm sure you'll find that whatever quarrel you and Owen have had will quickly mend itself," Aldous says. "I doubt that," Liz says. "Owen's wife has arrived from Earth." "My that is a bump," says Aldous, momentarily fazed by Liz's revelation. -page 208
15-year-old Liz is your average teen. She has a boyfriend, a best friend who is about to attend prom, and is in the process of getting her drivers license. Life is looking good for her, until she dies suddenly in a hit and run car accident. That is where Liz's new life begins, an after life in a place called Elsewhere.
Elsewhere is a fantasy novel that takes place in what some would term heaven. In Elsewhere one grows younger instead of old, and once one is in a newborn state they are transported back to Earth to start a new traditional life cycle. The problem is that Liz was just beginning her traditional life as a teen. She was considering college and is unhappy with her fate.
The novel pretty much starts off with the death of Liz, a promising student who wants a serious relationship, and a future outside of your family life; the last thing she could ever want is death or a regression to a younger self.
This book is so much better than I would have initially thought. Themes such as loss, love, family, and friendship are explored, but not in a traditional sense, which makes this book enjoyable. There are also a lot of strong characters throughout the novel. Liz is reunited with her grandmother Betty in Elsewhere, and does end up falling in love with a man that would have been twice her age in Earth terms but, is simply a year apart in Elsewhere. His name is Owen, and he was previously married on Earth to a woman named Emily. As Liz and Owen are falling in love Emily dies, is transported to Elsewhere, and it seems as if their relationship is doomed since Owen's loyalties lie with his wife. But, there is a twist.
Emily is by far my favorite character in this novel. When she comes to Elsewhere she is in her 30's, where as Owen is stunted at 17. She plays a strong female character with depth who ends her relationship with Owen because they are no longer who they used to be. What I love about that scenario is that it is a realistic and grounded adult conclusion. Emily is not villianized for her actions and it is in the long run the best decision for everyone.
Rarely do I find that type of depth or insight in YA fiction, especially from a female perspective. I feel that this book does a good job of explaining loss and redemption, but in fantasy terms which makes hard hitting subject matter such as the ones mentioned more palatable.
The only problem I have with Elsewhere is that I feel there are a few unanswered scenarios and questions. Such as what happened to Liz's grandfather and why is he not with Betty, Liz's grandmother in Elsewhere. But, I feel that is a constant problem in fantasy, so many rules are made up about the environment that it is hard to address everything.
I would recommend this book especially to young women. Though the initial idea of love in an afterlife seems to me like a plot that could be easily exhausted and corny, Zevin does a good job of keeping the reader engaged and not applying a pedestrian approach to the characters or their scenarios.
What happens when you die? Where do you go? What do you do? Zevin provides answers to these questions in this intriguing novel, centering on the death of Liz Hall, almost 16 years old and looking forward to all that lies ahead: learning to drive, helping her best friend prepare for the prom, going to college, falling in love. Killed in a hit-and-run accident, Liz struggles to understand what has happened to her, grief-stricken at all she has lost, and incapable of seeing the benefits of the Elsewhere in which she finds herself. Refusing to participate in this new life, Liz spends her time looking longingly down at the family and friends back on Earth who go on without her. But the new environment pulls her into its own rhythms. Liz meets the grandmother she never knew, makes friends, takes a job, and falls in love as she and the other inhabitants of Elsewhere age backward one year for each year that they are there. Zevin's third-person narrative calmly, but surely guides readers through the bumpy landscape of strongly delineated characters dealing with the most difficult issue that faces all of us. A quiet book that provides much to think about and discuss
-School Library Journal
Zevin has left no stone unturned. Her tale covers: what happens to
animals, how you progress to the ' afterlife,' how you make contact with
life on earth, and how you become reborn, amongst many other questions
people have about ' what happens when you die ?'. The story is in no way
contrived but highly plausible. I found myself crying consistently on
and off throughout the story, not because it was sad, but because it was
so buoyant and made so much sense about dealing with what is almost
always a disagreeable topic.
Elsewhere is a book that good readers of 13 and above would enjoy. It
poses so many philosophical questions and ideas that would be excellent
for use in a " Gifted and Talented " class. The idea of getting younger
as opposed to getting older would be an excellent starting point for
some creative writing. Students often want to get older quickly before
they've had chance to experience being young, so the possibility of
becoming younger and debating what happens at the point of birth could
open up some amazing philosophical discussion.
In short this book is brilliant. If you read nothing else for the rest
of the year, read this.
-Amazon Reader's Review