Review: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

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Bloomsbury, 2005

Contemporary/magic realism. YA.

Christmas reading – recommendation from a friend.

Liz Hall has just died. But that’s only the beginning of the story. Liz wakes up on the SS Nile, a ship full of strange people, on their way to whatever comes next. Arriving in a place called Elsewhere, she meets a grandmother she has never known, and has to learn how to live after death.

Elsewhere is a compelling read, and an impressive debut from Gabrielle Zevin who has since written Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac and the Anya Balanchine books. Elsewhere is no ordinary book – the first chapter is told from a dog’s point of view, the main character is dead, and the book deals extensively with ideas of the afterlife. Liz Hall is a strong protagonist, and her struggles to come to terms with her death are dealt with very well. There is a lot of emotion – for example, Liz and many others in Elsewhere become addicted to the ODs (Observation Decks) from which they can watch their families and friends on Earth. Elsewhere is a very interesting setting – there are mentions of new Picasso paintings, and Liz can communicate with dogs. The thought of aging backwards, and then returning to Earth as a baby is intriguing. Gabrielle Zevin gives an account of the different versions the story has gone through on her website.

The romance is not wholly convincing – I found it sweet at the start, and I thought the complication was excellent, but the love story never really built up for me. However, I did really like the characters – Thandi, Betty, Curtis and Owen were all very memorable characters. Liz grew a lot throughout the novel, making it a very compelling and satisfying read. This is definitely a book I want to read again to ponder Elsewhere, and I am also hoping to read Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. Maybe it’s not what really comes next, but it’s certainly an imaginative and thought-provoking theory, and a very enjoyable and moving read.

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