In Gabrielle Zevin’s novel Elsewhere, Liz is fifteen, looking forward to turning sixteen and getting her driver’s license, when everything changes. She’s riding her bike, only three months from driving a car instead of using her bike as her main mode of transportation, when she is hit by a car. She wakes up on a ship, sharing a room with a girl named Thandi who has what looks like a bullethole in the back of her head. Liz doesn’t look like she normally does, either; she doesn’t have any hair. In this “dream,” as she thinks it is, things are a little weird. There are no modern electronic devices on the ship, and everyone with the exceptions of herself, Thandi, and Liz’s favorite singer, Curtis Jest, is over 80.
After watching her own funeral (used by her high school principal as an opportunity to lecture on traffic safety), Liz realizes that this is no dream. Nor is it exactly her “life.” Liz is dead. She was killed in a car crash, and, in the world skillfully created by Gabrielle Zevin, this is where people go once they die. On a ship. Of course, boats have to go somewhere, and this one finally lands in Elsewhere. The afterlife, though not as anyone on earth imagined it. In Elsewhere, for one thing, people age backwards. Liz will never turn sixteen (but they’ll still let her get a driver’s license); instead, she’ll be turning fourteen again, under the care of her dead grandmother, who is surprisingly young (about the same age as Liz’s mother).
Elsewhere, though the people grow younger rather than older, is a lot like earth. Some artists continue their work here (you can see new paintings by Picasso!), just as they did on earth. Marilyn Monroe is a psychiatrist. Everything you can find on Earth–music, books, artwork–you can find Elsewhere. Elsewhere, Liz thinks, “could have been a walk to the next town or an hour’s ride in the car or an overnight plane trip.” It shouldn’t be too hard adjusting to this…right?
Gabrielle Zevin’s first YA novel is brilliant, and readers can only hope there will be a second! Sad, hopeful, creative, and well-written, this is a book that is not to be missed. The afterlife in Elsewhere is an original, interesting view of things that is somewhere between the heaven and hell spoken of by most religions; as has been said, this afterlife is a lot like an extension of life on earth, only backwards. It seems like a nice place, a happy place to be–except for what it takes for people to get there. Gabrielle Zevin creates this world brilliantly, in a novel that is sure to have readers hooked from the very first page. Definitely worth your money; you’ll want to read this book, sure to be a favorite with readers of all ages for a long time to come, again and again.