What really happens to people when they die? In Gabreille Zevin's novel, they end up in Elsewhere. Elsewhere [Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 11, 2005] is 288 pages of a young girl's experience after her death from a hit-and-run bicycle crash. The main character, Liz Hall, finds herself on a boat. She learns that she has died at the young age of 15. Once the boat reaches its destination, she meets the grandmother she has never known and learns about her new life from the kindly man in the Office of Acclimation.
Life on Elsewhere
One might think that Liz would be happy to meet her grandmother and take an interesting job working and talking with dogs, but she struggles to stop looking back at her former life on Earth through telescopes that take special coins. Liz spends much of her early days in Elsewhere looking back at the happenings on Earth in the dingy white pajama set she was given on the boat.
Actually, going backwards is a major theme in the novel. Every inhabitant is actually aging backwards. From the people who overdose on drugs to the cancer victims, everyone is allowed to age backwards to a baby and to be sent back to Earth in the mystical river. The idea that everyone arrives at Elsewhere and everyone gets to repeat life on Earth may not mesh well with some traditional religious beliefs.
However, Liz is able to find friendship, a vocation and even love on Elsewhere. Nothing is easy there, just like on Earth, but Liz endures. The reader gets to watch her journey from the grave to the cradle. For young adult readers who want a unique take on the heavy topic of death, this is a delightful read. Teachers can even access a guide on the Macmillan website.