Poised on the brink of turning 16, Liz Hall believes that all good things lie in her future. She will earn her driver's license, graduate high school and go on to college, her first love, marriage and a fulfilling career as a veterinarian. But on the way to help her best friend shop for a prom dress, Liz is killed by a hit-and-run driver. End of story? Not even close.
In Gabrielle Zevin's witty and wise new novel, ELSEWHERE, Liz awakens on a cruise ship bound for the afterlife. When the ship docks, she meets her grandmother Betty, who died before Liz was born. Betty looks, to Liz's surprise, only about as old (or young) as Liz's mother. The explanation: Residents of Elsewhere age backward until infancy, when they are "released," or sent back downriver to be reborn on Earth.
From this deceptively simple concept, Zevin creates a compelling, fully realized world, and in Liz, she has a believable, sympathetic main character. At first, Liz feels cheated out of her life, and who wouldn't? "If it isn't bad enough that she died before getting to do anything fun," Liz thinks upon learning her fate, "now she will have to repeat her whole life in reverse until she becomes a stupid, sniveling baby again." She spends hours behind the coin-operated binoculars at one of Elsewhere's Observation Decks, sullenly keeping tabs on the friends and family she left behind.
ELSEWHERE would be a gloomy read if Liz never moved beyond her grief, but fortunately Zevin doesn't let her wallow for too long. Every Elsewhere resident is encouraged to choose a profession, and Liz takes a counseling position with the Division of Domestic Animals: she explains the basics of Elsewhere to recently deceased dogs and places them in new homes. You'll need to read the book to learn exactly how humans in Elsewhere are able to communicate with canines, but dogs provide much of the novel's comic relief. Sadie, a newly arrived mutt, is disgusted when Liz discloses the difference between a water dish and a toilet bowl. "Why didn't anyone ever tell me?" the dog asks, horrified. "I've been drinking from toilets for years. I never knew. They always had the door closed."
Just as Liz's pet counseling work in Elsewhere is a twist on her former life's ambition, so too does she realize her other goals: she eventually earns her license and even falls in love. Things don't work out exactly the way she had expected, but then, people's lives usually don't. The beauty of ELSEWHERE lies in the way it holds up a mirror to our own world. "You get older, you get younger," Liz muses toward the novel's end, "and I'm not sure the difference is as great as I once thought."
Reviewed by Carolyn Juris on August 11, 2005
- Publication Date: August 11, 2005
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- ISBN-10: 0374320918
- ISBN-13: 9780374320911