Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading


ElsewhereElsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin


Working in a library has its perks, one of them being able to recommend books to so many people.  I think I wind up recommending more books to fellow librarians than to patrons, but for me, the best benefit is when someone else recommends a book to me.  Elsewhere came recommended to me by a co-worker, and I was glad that it did; this is an excellent look at life through the lens of death.

Liz (or Lizzie, or Elizabeth, depending on who asks) is a fifteen year-old who has recently died in a bicycle accident, and wakens on a ship adrift on the ocean.  She and the other inhabitants on the ship are all of the recently dead, and are being transported to a place called Elsewhere.  In Elsewhere, life (death?) goes on, only in reverse; people arrive in Elsewhere at the age they were when they died, and grow younger while they are there.  This is a boon for people who die of natural causes later in life, but for fifteen year-olds who just missed being able to drive, go to the prom, or have boyfriends, it’s a bit depressing.

Ironically, life goes on in Elsewhere.  People form new romantic relationships, get married, take jobs (or, more specifically avocations, which are jobs that people want to do), and usually do things completely differently from what they did when they were alive.  Once they become too young for their avocation, they retire, and when they become seven days old again, they are wrapped in swaddling and sent down a river, where they become reborn as new children on Earth.  So, as the book mentions, life is both a circle and a line, but really, we’re just talking about the concept of reincarnation.

Luckily, the author manages to avoid any Shirley Maclaine, New Age-y analyses of the phenomenon, and instead focuses on the way life continues in Elsewhere.  People respond differently to their deaths.  Some grow addicted to the observation desks, where for a dollar or so, they can watch five minutes of friends and family back on Earth; others refuse to admit they’re dead and live in denial; still others experience grief for the lives they used to have.  Most, though, come to terms with their deaths and continue living a life similar to what they wanted in life.

The book seems a little off in places, partly because the whole mechanics of this afterlife are a bit convoluted, and partly because the book is very teen-ish in nature.  These, however, are minor complaints.  The author manages to create a vivid world with realistic people, and it’s very easy to get caught up in the story and the events.  I finished the book in just a couple of sittings, and was very satisfied with it.

The book is probably best suited for its target audience (young adults), but anyone who enjoys a good, light story with some philosophical overtones should enjoy it, as well.


August 24, 2006 - Posted by | Reviews, YA Fiction

1 Comment »

  1. I am troubled by the spin and innuendo of this book aimed at impressionable young teens: that there is no God (for certainly to say God is whoever He/She/It is you think Him/Her/It to be leaves us with no true god at all)…but it sells because it panders to multiculturalism. With the possibility of a personal, caring God excluded, we are left with endless reincarnations. Even science, however, tells us there must be an end to the physical earth…what then? That would really be the end, since the “after” in this afterlife cannot embrace that eventuality. This book panders to the hidden wish that things would remain comfortingly familiar. The author simply has no credentials to take us where she does, if she cannot even produce an imaginary place that is feasible. Young people are being led to a place where their reason is being assaulted, if their strong acceptance of this book is to be believed. I recognize, however, that much of young adult fare cheats young adults in such a way.

    I hope people would discuss these kinds of things rather than simply the “feel good” aspect that such a “dream like” offering yields. It basically teaches a new religion to young people, who are apt to uncritically receive it, just as adults did the “DaVinci Code”.

    Comment by joe | September 23, 2006 | Reply

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