Wednesday, October 1, 2014

REVIEW: ELSEWHERE by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: Elsewhere
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: May 15, 2007
Genre: Young Adult
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 2/5


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?


Looking at the thousands of ratings and glowing reviews on Goodreads, it seems I may be in the minority here, but Elsewhere, more often than not, bored me to tears or had me dizzy from all the eye-rolling. Again, it’s one of those books with a fantastic premise and unlimited possibilities, but falls flat with a poorly constructed “plot” and paper-thin characters.

I’d love to tell you that what could make this an enjoyable read for older readers is the incredibly imaginative world-building, with this being the afterlife and there being so much potential to just go boss with the setting for the hereafter; but apart from a few creative aspects, there’s really nothing special about the world of Elsewhere. It’s much too similar to our own way of life: i.e. shopping for clothes and souvenirs, paying for things with eternims (Elsewhere currency), getting a job, driving, phones, watching educational videos, bureaucracy, allergies, a drive-in movie theatre, etc. You know, I don’t want to go off on a rant here; I just want to know why it is that people are so obsessed with television? Honestly, I’ve read scores of fictional accounts of the afterlife, and in every single one of them the characters watched television, or some show or movie was playing in the background on a tv set. I just don’t get it. What is this relentless fascination with television?!  

Elsewhere has its strong points, but ultimately the juvenile writing, stilted dialogue, lapses in the timeline, and bland world-building did it in for me. I thought, because of the almost-sixteen-year-old protagonist, I was reading a YA novel, but the writing is more suitable for younger readers around the age of ten. Now that in itself doesn’t bother me (I don’t mind reading MG books), but in my opinion it didn’t fit the voice of the main character. There were some other elements too that didn’t work for me, but I won’t go into detail about those with this review.

One of the perks of living in Elsewhere is that you can learn to speak Canine. Did you know – according to one of the inhabitants of Elsewhere, Aldous Ghent – there are over three-hundred words for love in Canine? And did you know, in Elsewhere, they have a book in the Department of Last Words that records – you guessed it – your last words spoken just before you pass away?

I’m one of those who believe youth is wasted on the young, so I especially liked the idea in this story that when you die, you grow younger in Elsewhere, until you’re seven-days-old, and then you go back to earth as a baby, are reborn and start a new life. (Reincarnation, anyone?)

Another aspect I liked about this story is that it questions what should really matter. For instance, Liz was asked whether she has lived a happy life on earth. After giving it some thought she realized that what she considered unimportant to her while she was still alive, were in actual fact the things that mattered most. Things she took for granted – loving parents, a wonderful best friend, having it easy at school, a doggy that likes sleeping next to her in bed, etc – were a few of the things that ended up being the total sum of her happiness.

On the whole, the only thing I really enjoyed about this novel is its uniqueness with the reverse-aging theory. A story about a teen trying to make sense of her sudden demise and adjusting to life after death and then being reborn again is definitely something I haven’t read before. Liz, for me, wasn’t a likeable character – she lies, she steals, she’s ungrateful, she’s mean to her grandmother, and so on (with no consequences whatsoever). I found the first chapter from her dog’s point of view an apt way to start the book. Unfortunately the story had a ton more weak points than strong points, and I feel it’s more suitable for middle grade readers who might not have the same hang-ups I have about the more technical aspects of the plot, dialogue, and characters.

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Gabrielle Zevin has published six novels. Her debut, Margarettown, was a selection of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. The Hole We’re In was on Entertainment Weekly's Must List and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Publishers Weekly called the novel "a Corrections for our recessionary times."

She is the screenwriter of Conversations with Other Women (Helena Bonham Carter, Aaron Eckhart) for which she received an Independent Spirit Award Nomination. In 2009, she and director Hans Canosa adapted her novel Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (ALA Best Books for Young Adults) into the Japanese film, Dareka ga Watashi ni Kiss wo Shita. She has also written for the New York Times Book Review and NPR’s All Things Considered. She began her writing career at age fourteen as a music critic for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

Zevin is a graduate of Harvard University. After many years on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she recently moved to Silver Lake, Los Angeles.

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1 comment:

fredamans said...

I was hoping you were going to have rave reviews for this one. It does sound good, but sometimes the book doesn't live up to the premise.
Fantastic review... with so many good reviews I'm still stuck on whether to read it or not.