Book Reviews 2014 · Magical Realism and Speculative Books · Young Adult Book Reviews

‘Elsewhere’ by Gabrielle Zevin

“Sorry, but nothing of much importance ever happened to me…

I’m just a girl who forgot to look both ways before she crossed the street.”

4 Stars

I have read Gabrielle Zevin’s ‘All These Things I’ve Done’ and I have to say that I did not really enjoy her attempt at dystopian, although her writing was okay. It was for this reason that I decided that the next Zevin book I pick up would be a different, more ‘real’ genre. I came across ‘Elsewhere’ – a magical realism book – at work, and being a fan of this kind of book, I bought it, even though the cover has chunks taken out of it and it is in the worst condition of any of my books. It didn’t disappoint me, and it was a nice spontaneous afternoon read to encourage me out of my minor reading slump.

What I will say to start off is not to enter this book with expectations. I think that if you expect it to be overly profound or a work of genius then you will be ever so slightly let down. It is not as inspiring as some of the other books of its type, the ideas are a little young at times and the world is not meticulously crafted. But saying that, I don’t think that this book has to do anything different to be enjoyable.

Liz was killed when she was hit by a taxi while cycling to the mall. She wakes up in Elsewhere, a place where people who have died get younger rather than older, until they become babies and are sent down the river to be reborn. This is an interesting take on what happens after you have died, supporting Heaven and reincarnation simultaneously whilst not being too nonsensical. Yes, it is probably not the most popular idea as to what happens after you die, but it is a nice one. Zevin’s writing is not too whimsical or get as meaningful as people may associate with the genre. There are moments when Zevin touches upon sincere points (as you have to when writing about death) but overall the book is not a scientific study into whether you could really become a baby again and float down a river to reincarnation upon death – it is a character-based story about Liz’s acceptance at the big changes in her life. I think that getting too philosophical would have shifted the focus more onto the death element (which was key, but not the perennial point) rather than Liz’s growth as a character. It also would have been too unbelievable of a 15-year-old girl who was facing the worst time of her life (well…death).

On the topic of Liz, I thought that she was ultimately an understandable character. Maybe she spent far too long languishing in a state of depression considering the length of the novel, but at the end of the day, her character development was there. She was a decent character with the necessary fatal flaws but who changes through the duration of the book which, in a lighter novel such as this one, is all that I require of her. Owen, Betty, Curtis and Thandi were also all fun to read about, and there was nobody who really let me down. I wasn’t too fond of Emily, but considering that we primarily had Liz’s viewpoint of her, I’m not sure that she was ever going to be painted too sympathetically.

Yes, the ideas are pretty simplistic and often a tad juvenile; talking to dogs, ghostly waterworks and babies floating downriver all make their appearances, and all three are either a cliché or a bit of a childish fantasy. But as I said, if you go into this book expecting nothing more than a simplistic and light read to keep you occupied for a couple of hours, this shouldn’t matter. It isn’t going to be the most inspiring or ideal book in the world, and if you can treat certain elements with a pinch of salt, then it is enjoyable. The whole idea of her understanding of her ‘murderer’ was predictable, but I think that it was a necessary concept for the book. It was also a tad darker than the rest of the story, to prevent it from getting too fluffy (it is still about death after all!).

All in all, I would recommend this book, but I would say: do not be a critique. If you start analysing every element of it, the whole story loses its beauty. The reason that I found it so beautiful is that it encompasses death and acceptance as its main themes, but it does not feel like a challenge to read. It is the lightest take on such ideas that I have read, and I think that for a Sunday afternoon read to finish a particularly stressful week, it did everything I wanted it to.

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