May 20, 2014

Book Review: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: Elsewhere
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Published Date: May 15th 2007
Publisher: Square Fish
ISBN: 0312367465
ISBN13: 9780312367466

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?

This moving, often funny book about grief, death, and loss will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.


I saw this book while browsing online bookshops for something new to read. I got curious because of the synopsis, and just like that, I decided to add it on my TBR list. 
“The end came quickly, and there wasn’t any pain.” Sometimes, the father whispers it to the mother. Sometimes, the mother to the father. From the top of the stairs, Lucy hears it all and says nothing."
There are those book that will totally suck you the moment you read the first sentence. And this was one of them. 

I never thought I would be so into this book. I was surprised because I really liked everything about it. It’s so magical and really believable that it brings out this hope in me that the world the author created is really existing and that there is an afterlife after all. 

Elsewhere is a place people go when they’re dead. In this place, people age backwards. No one gets older, everyone gets younger. This concept reminded me of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I just love the concept of this book, especially the Elsewhere world. It was an elaborate plot. Whenever I think about it, I just sigh remembering the emotions I felt while reading it. It was by no means an emotional read but it will make you realize and examine how you lived your life. Like are you happy? Have you found your purpose on Earth? 

Elsewhere is pretty much like Earth, the difference is of course, the inhabitants. I listed several trivia you need to know about the place.
  • You become a baby again. And when you’re seven days old, you and all the other babies are sent down the River, back to Earth to be born anew. It’s called the Release.
  • Avocation – it’s like a job except you are actually supposed to like doing it. 
  • Acclimation is the process by which the newly deceased become residents of Elsewhere. 
  • Sneaker Clause – You can go back to Earth early. As long as you declare your intentions within your first year of residence. 
  • Well – This is found at a deeper part of the ocean. This place acts as a medium if you want to talk to someone from the Earth by using a water source. The dead are prohibited to go to this place. 
  • Department of Last Words – This department is responsible for recording the last words of the dead. 
  • Department of Acclimation, Division of Domestic Animals – This department is responsible for the acclimation of all the animals that comes through Elsewhere. 
  • OD’s or Over Decks have telescopes that offer each viewer a show of what their loved one is doing on Earth. You have to use a coin for every view. 1 coin is equivalent to 5-minute viewing. 
  • Watcher Syndrome – you get addicted to over decks 
  • The River is actually in the middle of the ocean. The ocean only parts once a day to allow the babies back to Earth.
“In the end, the end of a life only matters to friends, family, and other folks you used to know,” the pug whimpers miserably. “For everyone else, it’s just another end.” 
Elizabeth Hall is a fifteen year old teenager who met an unfortunate death and was therefore boarded on a ship that will travel towards the afterlife world, Elsewhere. Because she was still in denial with what happened to her, she tried everything just to communicate with the outside world. She was so bitter that she didn’t appreciate the things around her. She never got to have a boyfriend, never given her virginity, never even got to college, and most of all, she’ll not be able grow her boobs. I guess one of the lessons, this book wants to teach us is that happiness is a choice. It doesn’t take a lot to be happy. You just have to open your eyes and your heart to all the blessings. Learn to appreciate the small things. If you always worry about your choices, you’ll just drive yourself crazy with all the what-ifs. Just live your life one day at a time. At the end, it’s not about how long you have lived your life, rather, it’s the quality of life you have had while you lived.

While she was busy being bitter, she’ll meet Owen, and they’ll unexpectedly find love with each other. Owen, by the way, was 26 years old when he died. He’s now 2 years older than Liz.

Owen and Liz learned a lot from each other. They became each other’s source of joy. Although, it’s still a mystery to Liz why people fall in love.

Overall, Elsewhere is a magical tale of all the possibilities of what an Afterlife might be. It also teaches us how to appreciate our lives and how to live it to the fullest. Elsewhere is a book about grief, loss, acceptance, and forgiveness.

It teaches us that to be free from grief and to achieve happiness, one must free oneself from bitterness and be able to accept the faults of a person and forgive.
People always find dying in groups more tragic.
You could drive yourself crazy with what ifs.
“I think you’ll find,” Aldous continues, “that dying is just another part of living, Elizabeth. In time, you may even come to see your death as a birth. Just think of it as Elizabeth Hall: The Sequel.”
Um means nothing. Um is what you say while you’re thinking of what you’ll really say. Um suggests someone interrupted before they’d begun.
Dead is a little more than a state of mind. Many people on Earth spend their whole lives dead.
Be happy! It’s easier to be happy than to be sad. Being sad takes a lot of work. It’s exhausting
People, you’ll find, aren’t usually all good or all bad. Sometimes they’re a little bit of good and a whole lot of bad. And sometimes they’re mostly good with a dash of bad. And most of us, well, we fall in the middle somewhere.
Why do two people ever fall in love? It’s a mystery.
In my humble opinion, love is when a person believes that he, she, or it can’t live without some other he, she or it.
No one actually needs another person or another person’s love to survive. Love, Lizzie, is when we have irrationally convinced ourselves that we do.
If you are going to forgive a person, it is best to do it sooner rather than later.
A life isn’t measured in hours and minutes. It’s the quality, not the length.
A human’s life is a beautiful mess. 

Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin has published six novels. Her debut, Margarettown, was a selection of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. The Hole We’re In was on Entertainment Weekly's Must List and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Every day newspaper articles chronicle families battered by the recession, circling the drain in unemployment and debt or scraping by with minimum-wage jobs. But no novel has truly captured that struggle until now." Publishers Weekly called the novel "a Corrections for our recessionary times."

Of all her books, she is probably best known for the young adult novel Elsewhere. Elsewhere, an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, was nominated for a Quill Award and received the Borders Original Voices Award. The book has been translated into over twenty languages. Of Elsewhere, the New York Times Book Review wrote, “Every so often a book comes along with a premise so fresh and arresting it seems to exist in a category all its own... Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin, is such a book.”

She is the screenwriter of Conversations with Other Women (Helena Bonham Carter, Aaron Eckhart) for which she received an Independent Spirit Award Nomination. In 2009, she and director Hans Canosa adapted her novel Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (ALA Best Books for Young Adults) into the Japanese film, Dareka ga Watashi ni Kiss wo Shita. She has also written for the New York Times Book Review and NPR’s All Things Considered. She began her writing career at age fourteen as a music critic for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

Zevin is a graduate of Harvard University. After many years on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she recently moved to Silver Lake, Los Angeles.


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