Name of Book: Elsewhere
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Square Fish (May 15, 2007)
Audience: Grades 7-10
Summary: Fifteen year old Liz Hall awakens on a cruise ship populated mostly with elderly passengers. She learns that she is dead, the victim of a head trauma. When the ship docks in Elsewhere, she hides in an effort to return to her “real” life. Rather than adjusting to her new life with her grandmother who died of breast cancer before Liz was born, Liz is despairing, sullen, and furious at being denied anticipated rites of passage (going to college, getting married, getting big boobs, getting her driver’s license). She spends much of her time watching her family and friends through magical telescopes, and she refuses to take suggestions offers by the Office of Acclimation. Eventually, she begins to listen. After discovering a talent for conversing with animals, she takes a job counseling deceased pets.
Liz notes that “A human life is a beautiful mess.” This idea is reinforced throughout the book. A newly dead rock star in his mid-thirties falls in love with Liz’s grandmother, now similar in biological age. New arrivals to Elsewhere reunite with long-dead spouses, creating odd May-December marriages. Liz herself experiences an awkward love triangle when her boyfriend’s wife arrives.
WARNNG; This book’s view of life after death will upset some people. However, it engages some basic human questions about existence. Life and death are seen as equally rich sides of the same coin.
Literary Elements at work in the story: The setting is the afterlife. The author has not injected any religious patina, but has depicted the afterlife as being very similar to our reality. People age in reverse, so that one lives in Elsewhere the same length of time in which he/she lived in life. No one dies or is born, but at the end of their stay in Elsewhere, they are returned to Earth to be born as infants and start the life cycle again. The narration is from beyond the grave, a literary element that has been used with increasing frequency in recent years (The Lovely Bones, The Sledding Hill, and Where I Want to Be are examples). But the power and beauty of this work transcends the trend.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic/ability: Not a factor in this book
Scripture: John 14:2, I Corinthians 13:12
Theology: Life after death, Community (life in), Forgiveness
Faith Talk Questions:
- When Liz realizes that not only is she dead but also that she is aging in reverse, she is furious at missing out on life milestones such as getting her driver’s license or falling in love. If you found yourself in Liz’s situation, what life milestone would you regret not achieving? If possible interview people of many different stages of life to learn their perspectives on this question. Discuss any answers that surprised you.
- Why did Liz spend so much time watching her family and friends?
- Haring and seeing family and friends was easy. Talking to them was much more difficult. Why?
- Describe your idea of life after death. How does the Bible describe heaven, hell and Sheol? Where do we get our ideas of the details of heaven and hell?
Review prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary alumna Mary Anne Welch
Elsewhere by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.