Elsewhere, a YA novel by Gabrielle Zevin, tells the story of Liz, a 15-year old girl who gets killed in a hit and run accident. Liz wakes up on a cruise ship with a slight headache. She does not realize she is dead until she gets to watch her own funeral from the ship. The ship arrives in Elsewhere and it is there that Liz is greeted by her grandma Betty, who died before she was born. Betty tells Liz the reality of Elsewhere: you will age backwards from your age at death until you become a baby again and return to Earth. Liz is devastated by this news and quickly sinks into a deep depression. She does not want to get younger. She wants to get older. Liz wants to get her drivers license, go to college, fall in love, get married, have babies. She does not want to live in Elsewhere with a grandmother she never met, away from all she knows and loves. Eventually Liz learns to accept her fate and makes friends, relates to her grandmother, gets a job. She even fulfills some of her goals.
Zevin asks the question, “Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward?” and as I read I began asking myself that same question. I loved this book. I loved everything about it, from beginning to end. I thought the idea was intriguing and the characters wonderful. Although this is actually a novel for young adults, I found myself relating to the teenage Liz. I remembered what it was like to be that age and how I would feel if this happened to me. I felt for Liz, even when she was being an impossible teenager, sullen and depressed. I cheered for her when she found herself happy again. I enjoyed the other characters as well; Grandma Betty, who only wants the best for her, Owen Welles, who becomes a close friend of Liz’s after busting her trying to make contact with her living family, and I especially loved Liz’s adopted dog Sadie, who is able to communicate with her. As a lover of dogs and all animals, I thought this was an especially lovely concept- that Liz and many other lucky humans in the novel were able to communicate with their pets.
The novel spoke to me and made me think. It was positive but bittersweet. I cried a couple of times while reading it, partly from sadness, but mostly because I found it to be so beautiful. On Earth people don’t know when they’re going to die, but in Elsewhere, Liz knew- she had exactly fifteen years until the day of her “rebirth” and the experiences she had in that time were truly heartwarming. The concept is unusual. The characters relatable. Author Gabrielle Zevin has created a novel you won’t soon forget. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 5 wonderful stars.
Visit Gabrielle’s website here.
Originally posted with Writers News Weekly in 2009.