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Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin

Today I finished listening to Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin. I had read positive reviews of this young adult book, but was initially skeptical regarding the premise. Elsewhere is about a 15-year-old girl named Liz Hall who dies after being hit by a car. After her death, Liz finds herself journeying to Elsewhere, a place where people age backwards until, as 7-day-old babies, they return to Earth. I thought, how interesting can that be? Waiting around while aging backwards, until one returns to the real world.

I was wrong. Elsewhere had me hooked from the first page. Liz is a well-drawn, likable character, even when she passes through a sulky adolescent phase. Far from being a dull place where people wait for something to happen, Elsewhere is a fully realized world, not all that different from Earth. The quirk of people aging backwards, however, makes it original, and leads to amusing situations and confounded expectations. It also makes you think about larger philosophical issues related to life, aging, forgiveness, and the sense of self. Somehow, Gabrielle Zevin manages to do this without directly tackling the theological issues.

In Elsewhere, Liz gets to know her grandmother, Betty, who died before Liz was born. Liz also finds her avocation, the work that she would choose to do, even if she didn't have to work at all. She makes new friends, and encounters a potential love interest. Elsewhere is far from a place where nothing happens. The supporting characters are quirky and amusing, and Liz's voice is realistic and distinct. Ultimately, Elsewhere is about living life to the fullest, whether one is living it forwards or backwards.

My main quibble with listening to this book in audio format (from was that the narrator, Cassandra Morris, didn't do a very good job making the voices of the female characters distinct. I had a hard time distinguishing between Liz's voice and Grandma Betty's voice, and found this slightly annoying.

Also, when listening to a book on audio, it's hard to know how much of the book is left (unlike when one holds a book, and can see how many pages remain). This caused the book to fake me out a couple of times, where I thought that it was almost over, but was wrong. I was generally happy to be wrong, because this meant that I could spend more time with Liz, in Elsewhere, but it was disorienting. Of course when I did get to the end, I felt that it had ended in completely the right place.

Overall, I strongly recommend this book (though you might skip the audio, and go straight to the printed version). I think that everyone should read it, from young adults on up, because it's a fun read that also makes you think about larger issues. I think that it would be particularly beneficial for parents of teens to read this book, and encourage their kids to read it at the same time.

So, don't be put off by the book being about "death". It's really much more about life. And if you do read it, let me know what you think! -- Jen

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.