Monday, February 22, 2016

February Book Review: Elsewhere

I remember the day I read this book. I was 12 and had just had sleepover at Claire's house the night before and that next morning, she gave me this book to borrow, promising I would love it. I brought it with me to E's floor hockey game and began reading it to the sounds of tennis shoes squeaking against the hardwood and hockey sticks smacking a plastic puck. I loved it right away, and I read it in 5 hours.

Here is the premise: The story is from the POV of (almost) 16 year old Elizabeth Hall (Liz) who has just died from a hit and run. At first, on her ocean journey to Elsewhere, she doesn't realize she's dead. When reality sets in, she is crushed and angry that she has to spend the next (almost) 16 years of her death on the island of Elsewhere where she will age backward until she is just an infant and then she'll return to earth. Time goes on and she deals with failure to adjust to her new life, falling in love and learning to accept that she can have a life even though she is dead.

Zevin creates such a nostalgic, vivid picture of Elsewhere and crafts a very real world within it. Of course you shouldn't take her fictional musing of the afterlife as fact. I certainly don't believe in reincarnation as discussed in the book but like I said, it's fiction and incredibly creative.

I didn't realize it when I first read this book, but the writing is so clever and witty! The characters are full of realness and humor. The narration is very interesting, and not something I've seen before as it's third person but is written as more of a storytelling way. Like, we don't get super close to Liz but yet she is still important to us as readers. I think this is a very good decision on the part of Zevin as life is compared to a story a few times throughout. There are even a few breaks where we get a glimpse into other characters heads and their "stories".

I also love the themes that this book explores, beyond the cliches of death and afterlife, it goes a step further looking at the passing of time, the choice to be happy, what it means to actually live, how experience and maturity outweigh age and how we define a meaningful use of time.

My single critique for the book is some of the dialogue. I feel like at points, all of the characters speak in the same intelligent, slightly old fashioned way and I just wish they were more personalized to it as the characters themselves were all very unique.  I used to think that the pacing in the book was off, as a lot of time is spent on the journey to Elsewhere and then the majority of the book is Liz's first year there, after that it moves very quickly until the end of her time. Now I realize that Zevin is making a point about time. I guess I still might have liked a little more about Liz as she ages backward but it's not a huge deal.

Furthermore, I laugh during this book, I cry during it and at the bittersweet end, I simply sit back and take a deep breath. I was worried I wouldn't love this book now as much as I did the first time I read it when I was 12 or even the last time when I was 17. But I do, I really do. And I highly recommend it. Also, if you're an animal lover, this book is for you too because there is a lot about dogs and it's adorably written!

Rating: 9.5


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