Stories about the Afterlife have always appealed to me. There are thousands upon thousands of interpretations out there about what, exactly, happens to a person after they die. ELSEWHERE is a new spin on an old topic, but it manages to bring emotion, realism, and entertainment to something that is, in most circumstances, a very depressing situation. To me, ELSEWHERE is a combination of Mitch Ablom's THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN and Alice Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES, two other wonderful books dealing with death and the Afterlife. ELSEWHERE goes beyond those two books, however, taking readers on a journey into a land so much like Earth, and yet so very, very different.
Fifteen-year old Elizabeth "Liz" "Lizzie" Marie Hall has found herself in ELSEWHERE after dying in a bicycle-meets-taxi accident. After taking a long ride on the SS Nile, Liz has finally realized that she's not in a dream after all, but really, truly dead. When she arrives on Elsewhere, she meets her maternal grandmother, Betty, for the very first time. A woman who died at fifty from breast cancer, Betty is now a woman in her thirties--one of the first surprises Liz is in for is the fact that, on Elsewhere, lives are lived backward from the age of a person's death. Needless to say, this thought depresses Liz. She'll never be sixteen, never have a Massachusetts driver's license, never go to the prom or graduate from high school or go to college or get married. The only thing
she has to look forward to is growing younger, until she returns to being an infant and is sent back to Earth to be born again.
Liz spends her first month on Elsewhere spending all of her time--and her grandmother's eternims, the currency used there--to watch her family, friends, and classmates back on Earth. She's soon a regular at the OD's, or Observation Decks, watching life on Earth pass her by. She's upset that her best friend, Zooey, didn't attend her funeral. Her parents are inconsolable, her younger brother, Alvy, tells jokes to get through the day, and her dog, Lucy, refuses to accept that Liz isn't coming back.
It takes awhile, but Liz finally realizes that spending hours upon hours at the OD's is not helping her adjust to life on Elsewhere. She finds a new friend in Owen, one of the detectives in charge of keeping the inhabitants of Elsewhere away from the Well, where contact with people on Earth is possible, but illegal. She once again befriends Thandi, a young girl killed on Earth by a stray bullet, who was her bunkmate on the SS Nile. She gets closer to grandmother Betty, finally takes a job in the Division of Domestic Animals helping recently departed pets find new owners, and seems to be finding a place on Elsewhere.
I really loved this story. One of the most delightful things in ELSEWHERE is the animals, especially the dogs. Liz, a natural at the language of Canine, is able to interpret for her four-legged friends, and finally understand everything they have to say. I can't truly imagine aging backwards, but Gabrielle Zevin has managed to make a truly believable story that is realistic, entertaining, and emotional, all at the same time. This is definitely a recommended read, and in all honesty, I would love to visit the land of Elsewhere again in the future.