Thursday, January 4, 2024

Book Review: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin


Goodreads Overview:

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?

Jacque's Review:

I bought this book back in 2012 when Gabrielle Zevin came to my library to speak. I really enjoyed listening to her talk about this book, but I didn't actually read it until after I read her more recent book Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. I think what took me so long is the fact that it is about death. I thought it would be like one of those Nicholas Sparks tearjerker books, but it absolutely was not. 

I found the book to be very original, creative, and inspiring. Liz is the victim of a hit and run and ends up in Elsewhere, which is a sort of heaven, but operates like a regular city. People have jobs, but not necessarily the job they had on earth. Someone who was a surgeon on Earth could be a fisherman in Elsewhere. It is more about what you want to do vs. what you have to do to make ends meet. The other major difference is that people age backwards while in Elsewhere until they reach zero and return to Earth to start a new life again. 

Elizabeth goes to live with her grandmother, who she never met, but has aged back to 34 and is now younger than her mother. She has a difficult time adjusting to her new situation and acts out. She spends a considerable amount of time at the "observation deck" which is like those viewing stations you can use at various attractions. If you put a coin in the machine, you get a limited amount of time using the binoculars. In this case, the binoculars give you a view of life on Earth. She can see what her friends and family are doing now that she is gone and how they are coping. She even tries to make contact with them, which is strictly forbidden. 

She discovers that she has the unique ability to communicate with dogs, so she gets a job working to place dogs who arrive in Elsewhere with new owners. Her friend Owen has a dog named Jen, but he doesn't speak canine, so she helps him out with the dog. She also adopts a dog named Sadie her first day on the job. Some of the conversations with the dogs are laugh out loud funny.

Once she settles into life in Elsewhere, she tells her Grandma Betty "Happiness is a choice. There is no difference in quality between a life lived forward and a live lived backward." That is what I took away from this book as the overall message. You can choose to hold a grudge or fixate on the negative aspects of your life, or you can look at all of the positives and make the most of each and every day that you have. 

I have only read the two books mentioned by Garielle Zevin and would highly recommend both of them. The topics may not sound like something you are interested in, but they are not at all what they seem. They are more about life, friendship, and making your way in an imperfect world. There are great messages and take aways in both of these books.

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