Elsewhere
by Zevin, Gabrielle






After fifteen-year-old Liz Hall is hit by a taxi and killed, she finds herself in a place that is both like and unlike Earth, where she must adjust to her new status and figure out how to "live."





GABRIELLE ZEVIN is the author of a novel for adults,
Margarettown. She lives in New York City.





/*Starred Review*/ Narration from beyond the grave has been cropping up with some frequency in YA novels this year, including Chris Crutcher's The Sledding Hill and Adele Griffin's Where I Want to Be (both 2005). But this example, Zevin's second novel and her first for the YA audience, is a work of powerful beauty that merits judgment independent of any larger trend.The setting is an elaborately conceived afterlife called Elsewhere, a distinctly secular island realm of surprising physical solidity (no cottony clouds or pearly gates here), where the dead exist much as they once did-except that no one dies or is born, and aging occurs in reverse, culminating when the departed are returned to Earth as infants to start the life cycle again.Having sailed into Elsewhere's port aboard a cruise ship populated by mostly elderly passengers, 15-year-old head-trauma victim Liz Hall does not go gently into Elsewhere's endless summer. She is despairing, intractable, sullen, and understandably furious: "You mean I'll never go to college or get married or get big boobs or live on my own or get my driver's license or fall in love?" She rejects her new existence, spending endless hours keeping tabs on surviving family and friends through magical coin-operated telescopes, and refusing to take the suggestions offered by a well-meaning Office of Acclimation. Eventually, though, she begins to listen. She takes a job counseling deceased pets, forges an unexpected romance with a young man struggling with heartbreaks, and finds simple joy in the awareness that "a life is a good story . . . even a crazy, backward life like hers." Periodic visits with an increasingly youthful Liz, concluding with her journey down the "River" to be reborn, bring the novel to a graceful, seamless close.Although the book may prove too philosophical for some, Zevin offers readers more than a gimmick-driven novel of ideas: the world of Elsewhere is too tangible for that. "A human's life is a beautiful mess," reflects Liz, and the observation is reinforced with strikingly conceived examples: a newly dead thirtysomething falls in love with Liz's grandmother, who is biologically similar in age but experientially generations older; fresh arrivals reunite with spouses long since departed, creating incongruous May-December marriages and awkward love triangles (as Liz experiences when her boyfriend's wife suddenly appears). At one poignant moment, four-year-old Liz loses the ability to read. The passage she attempts to decipher, which comes from Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting, is another meditation on the march of time and change.Although Zevin's conception of the afterlife will inevitably ruffle many theological feathers, the comfort it offers readers grieving for lost loved ones, as well as the simple, thrilling satisfaction derived from its bold engagement with basic, provocative questions of human existence, will far outweigh any offense its metaphysical perspective might give. Far more than just a vehicle for a cosmology, this inventive novel slices right to the bone of human yearning, offering up an indelible vision of life and death as equally rich sides of the same coin. ((Reviewed August 2005)) Copyright 2005 Booklist Reviews.





An unusual premise and a thoughtful treatment make Zevin's first effort at writing for young adults a success. Liz Hall is 15. She's looking forward to getting her license, enjoying helping her best friend plan for the prom and anticipating a long, full life. Her sudden death in a hit-and-run accident puts an end to her life on earth-and that's when the story begins. Zevin's creation of a believable, intriguing afterlife and her depiction of Liz's struggle to adjust to her new situation will captivate teens ready for a thought-provoking read. Love, jealousy, grief, commitment, frustration and friendship all exist "Elsewhere," making death not that different from life after all. Personal choices still make a difference and characters continue to learn and grow, despite the fact that they age backwards from the moment of their deaths. Zevin's smooth, omniscient third-person narration and matter-of-fact presentation of her imagined world carries readers along, while her deft, understated character development allows them to get to know her characters slowly and naturally. Hopeful and engaging. (Fiction. 12+) Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.





ELSEWHERE (chapter 1)

At Sea

Elizabeth Hall wakes in a strange bed in a strange room with the strange feeling that her sheets are trying to smother her.

Liz (who is Elizabeth to her teachers; Lizzie at home, except when she's in trouble; and just plain Liz everywhere else in the world) sits up in bed, bumping her head on an unforeseen upper bunk. From above, a voice she does not recognize protests, "Aw hell!"

Liz peers into the top bunk, where a girl she has never seen before is sleeping, or at least trying to. The sleeping girl, who is near Liz's own age, wears a white nightgown and has long dark hair arranged in a thatch of intricately beaded braids. To Liz, she looks like a queen.

"Excuse me," Liz asks, "but would you happen to know where we are?"

The girl yawns and rubs the sleep out of her eyes. She glances from Liz to the ceiling to the floor to the window and then to Liz again. She touches her braids and sighs. "On a boat," she answers, stifling another yawn.

"What do you mean 'on a boat'?"

"There's water, lots and lots of it. Just look out the window," she replies before cocooning herself in the bedclothes. "Of course, you might have thought to do that without waking me."

"Sorry," Liz whispers.

Liz looks out the porthole that is parallel to her bed. Sure enough, she sees hundreds of miles of early-morning darkness and ocean in all directions, blanketed by a healthy coating of fog. If she squints, Liz can make out a boardwalk. There, she sees the forms of her parents and her little brother, Alvy. Ghostly and becoming smaller by the second, her father is crying and her mother is holding him. Despite the apparent distance, Alvy seems to be looking at Liz and waving. Ten seconds later, the fog swallows her family entirely.

Liz lies back in bed. Even though she feels remarkably awake, she knows she is dreaming, for several reasons: one, there is no earthly way she would be on a boat when she is supposed to be finishing tenth grade; two, if this is a vacation, her parents and Alvy, unfortunately, should be with her; and three, only in dreams can you see things you shouldn't see, like your family on a boardwalk from hundreds of miles away. Just as Liz reaches four, she decides to get out of bed. What a waste, she thinks, to spend one's dreams asleep.

Not wanting to further disturb the sleeping girl, Liz tiptoes across the room toward the bureau. The telltale sign that she is, indeed, at sea comes from the furniture: it is bolted to the floor. While she does not find the room unpleasant, Liz thinks it feels lonely and sad, as if many people had passed through it but none had decided to stay.

Liz opens the bureau drawers to see if they are empty. They are: not even a Bible. Although she tries to be very quiet, she loses her grip on the last drawer and it slams shut. This has the unfortunate effect of waking the sleeping girl again.

"People are sleeping here!" the girl yells.

"I'm sorry. I was just checking the drawers. In case you were wondering, they're empty," Liz apologizes, and sits on the lower bunk. "I like your hair by the way."

The girl fingers her braids. "Thanks."

"What's your name?" Liz asks.

"Thandiwe Washington, but I'm called Thandi."

"I'm Liz."

Thandi yawns. "You sixteen?"

"In August," Liz replies.

"I turned sixteen in January." Thandi looks into Liz's bunk. "Liz," she says, turning the one syllable of Liz's name into a slightly southern two, Li-iz, "you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

"Not really."

"The thing is"-Thandi pauses-"well, are you a skinhead or something?"

"A skinhead? No, of course not." Liz raises a single eyebrow. "Why would you ask that?"

"Like, 'cause you don't have hair." Thandi points to Liz's head which is completely bald except for the earliest sprouts of light blond growth.

Liz strokes her head with her hand, enjoying the odd smoothness of it. What hair there is feels like the feathers on a newborn chick. She gets out of bed and looks at her reflection in the mirror. Liz sees a slender girl of about sixteen with very pale skin and greenish blue eyes. The girl, indeed, has no hair.

"That's strange," Liz says. In real life, Liz has long, straight blond hair that tangles easily.

"Didn't you know?" Thandi asks.

Liz considers Thandi's question. In the very back of her mind, she recalls lying on a cot in the middle of a blindingly bright room as her father shaved her head. No. Liz remembers that it wasn't her father. She thought it was her father, because it had been a man near her father's age. Liz definitely remembers crying, and hearing her mother say, "Don't worry, Lizzie, it will all grow back." No, that isn't right either. Liz hadn't cried; her mother had been the one crying. For a moment, Liz tries to remember if this episode actually happened. She decides she doesn't want to think about it any longer, so she asks Thandi, "Do you want to see what else is on the boat?"

"Why not? I'm up now." Thandi climbs down from her bunk.

"I wonder if there's a hat in here somewhere," says Liz. Even in a dream, Liz isn't sure she wants to be the freaky bald girl. She opens the closet and looks under the bed: both are as empty as the bureau.

"Don't feel bad about your hair, Liz," Thandi says gently.

"I don't. I just think it's weird," Liz says.

"Hey, I've got weird things, too." Thandi raises her canopy of braids like a theater curtain. "Ta da," she says, revealing a small but deep, still-red wound at the base of her skull.

Although the wound is less than a half inch in diameter, Liz can tell it must have been the result of an extremely serious injury.

"God, Thandi, I hope that doesn't hurt."

"It did at first; it hurt like hell, but not anymore." Thandi lowers her hair. "I think it's getting better actually."

"How did you get that?"

"Don't remember," says Thandi, rubbing the top of her head as if she could stimulate her memory with her hands. "It might have happened a long time ago, but it could have been yesterday, too, know what I mean?"

Liz nods. Although she doesn't think Thandi makes any sense, Liz sees no point in arguing with the crazy sorts of people one meets in a dream.

"We should go," Liz says.

On the way out, Thandi casts a cursory glance at herself in the mirror. "You think it matters that we're both wearing pj's?" she asks.

Liz looks at Thandi's white nightgown. Liz herself is wearing white men's-style pajamas. "Why would it matter?" Liz asks, thinking it far worse to be bald than underdressed. "Besides, Thandi, what else do you wear while you're dreaming?" Liz places her hand on the doorknob. Someone somewhere once told Liz that she must never, under any circumstances, open a door in a dream. Since Liz can't remember who the person was or why all doors must remain closed, she decides to ignore the advice.

ELSEWHERE. Copyright 2005 by Gabrielle Zevin.






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