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Everyone has their own idea of what the afterlife might be like. But never have I seen it portrayed as originally as it is in the book "Elsewhere" by Gabrielle Zevin. People go to Elsewhere when they die. And then they age backwards until they are ready to be reborn on Earth. A pretty odd concept, right? Especially for a young adult book. Yet, strangely, it makes sense . . .
The heroine of Zevin's story is Liz, a fifteen year old who is killed when a hit and run driver hits her bicycle. Next thing she knows, she's in a bunk on a ship with a narky bunkmate called Thandi and with absolutely no idea where she is headed. After discovering Thandi has a bullet wound on the back of her head, and that there is a famous rock star on board who has clearly suffered some kind of overdose, reality starts to sink in - that she's dead. After trying to stow away on the journey back to Earth and hopefully life, and being caught by the (extremely young!) captain of the ship, Liz has to accept her fate.
Much to her surprise though, she has someone waiting for her on the other side - Betty, the grandmother who died before she was born. Betty is understandably a little nervous about looking after her a girl she has never met, especially since she was estranged from Liz's mother before her death. And Liz, sullen, sulky and unable to accept her fate, is DEFINITELY a handful. She spends all her time watching those she left behind, working out who is responsible for her death, and trying to work out a way to reach The Well - the only place you can contact the living . . . which is strictly forbidden. But it is when she breaks this rule that her life (or DEATH, I suppose!) changes for the better, and she meets someone who is to become very important to her.
What follows is a story about friendship, romance, life, death and how perhaps life isn't QUITE as important as what happens afterwards. Lessons can be learned in death, just as they can in life - and death is far from final. People focus on what they left behind when they die - but there are new adventures to be explored in Elsewhere.
As this was a fairly high concept idea, it really couldn't really be written half-assed when its put on paper - that would only disappoint the reader . Luckily it isn't. From the beginning, where we meet Liz's dog Lucy and her family before we meet Liz herself, the writing hooks you and reels you in. A review on the book's cover states it is so believable that when you finish the book you will want to read it backwards. I can kind of see the reviewer's point.
That being said, I'd say most of the action within the book takes place within the first year of Liz's life on Elsewhere - after this, the other stages of her life seem to be covered fairly fast. Perhaps that's a reflection on life itself - how it passes in a blur and you don't know where the time went. It turns out that the end of Death is just as sad as the end of Life though. Which is something I had never considered before.
The characters are incredibly real and HUMAN. Liz, even though she is a pain at first, is still likeable as you can't help but think - "what would I do if I was in her position?" The cast of main characters is fairly small but are spread between Earth and Elsewhere . . . and some of them are dogs! Dogs play a big part in this novel, and this in particular was a nice touch that never failed to make me smile.
As well as smiling though, I have to warn you . . . if you are, like me, an easy crier, you will be blubbing. Towards the end, I COMPLETELY lost it and was in absolute floods of tears. My nose and eyes stayed swollen and blotchy for a good few hours after I turned the final page and closed the book.
Considering it's not an adult book, it is still one I would thoroughly recommend. Like new classics like Harry Potter or Twilight, it manages to bridge that gap and appeal to everyone.
I've always been terrified of death. But if it's anything like Elsewhere . . . then maybe it would be okay after all.
***"Elsewhere" is available from amazon for £4.69 (RRP £6.99)***