Book Review: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

I have to admit that one of my favorite parts of what I do with Mother Daughter Book Club. com is reading and reviewing books that may be interesting for clubs to choose. Still, I’m only one person with a limited amount of time. So I like it when authors and book club members send me reviews of books they have read. Today I’m featuring a guest book review by author Christina Hamlett (, who recently read Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin.

Title: Elsewhere
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Genre: Coming-of-age
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005

One of the ongoing questions that humans have obsessed about since the dawn of their existence has been “Where do we go when we die?” Gabrielle Zevin’s YA title, Elsewhere, takes a sweet – although not unique – spin on the premise that departed souls spend time in a pleasant way-station before being recycled back to Earth with new identities. In the case of 15-year-old heroine Liz, her life was cut short by a hit-and-run driver who, despite his guilt, had what he believed were compelling reasons not to confess to his wrongdoing. Bewildered by her arrival in the Hereafter, Liz plausibly reacts as any teenager would when rules are changed against their will: she is determined to hate, hate, hate it and spend all of her time obsessing about everything that might have been.

The coin-operated telescopes that allow residents of Elsewhere to observe what’s going on amongst the living are an inspired parallel to the obsessions that teens – and quite a few adults – have with reality shows, celebrity tabloids and gaming. As is pointed out to Liz on more than one occasion, spending so much time being a spectator is holding her back from discovering the joys and possibilities of “living” in the now.

The introduction of a romantic interest is very much reminiscent of the 1987 film “Made in Heaven” starring Timothy Hutton and Kelly McGillis. In the movie storyline, Mike and Annie meet in the Hereafter, fall in love, and are then torn apart when one of them “dies.” Grief-stricken because he can’t live without his beloved Annie, Mike is offered a unique proposition – to be reborn himself and see if he can find her in the next 30 years. The complication? Neither he nor Annie will have any recollection of one another despite the number of times their paths cross. Elsewhere also flirts with elements from the 1990 Alan Rickman/Juliet Stevenson film “Truly, Madly, Deeply” in which a young woman’s idealizing her late boyfriend’s attributes gets puts to the test when he returns as a ghost and proves that he really wasn’t as perfect as her heart wants to remember.

Though marketed as a YA novel, the uplifting themes that underscore Elsewhere have a takeaway value for readers of all ages. The dialogue is crisp, the pacing is snappy, and the descriptions are breathtaking. I also have to add that it’s nice to see there are dogs in the storyline, too – all of which “speak” with honesty and sincerity about the things that matter most.

Christina Hamlett

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