Feb 7, 2013

Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin

Disclaimer: All reviews are the result of my personal opinion from a Christian stand-point. These reviews are provided for those who share my beliefs and morals, to help guide what fiction a reader may wish to pick up. For those who do not share these beliefs, please refrain from hateful comments. It is due to rude commenting that I must now include this note prior to all reviews. For more information, visit my purpose behind this blog. Thank you for your understanding.

Intended Age-Group: 12+ (I recommend 15+)
Issues of Violence: none
Intimacy Level: kissing, thoughts of sex, observation of sex
Swearing: b**t**d, mention of the F-word, what the h**l, usage of Lord, Jesus Christ, and God as exclamations of surprise/anger/disgust/etc.
Recommendation: 2 out of 5 stars

Welcome to Elsewhere. It is warm, with a breeze, and the beaches are marvelous. It’s quiet and peaceful. You can’t get sick or any older. Curious to see new paintings by Picasso? Swing by one of Elsewhere’s museums. Need to talk to someone about your problems? Stop by Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatric practice.
     Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, not fourteen again. She wants to get her driver’s license. She wants to graduate from high school and go to college. And now that she’s dead, Liz is being forced to live a life she doesn’t want with a grandmother she has only just met. And it is not going well. How can Liz let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward?

Initial Reaction: *****

I found this book  also on the to-read list for a public school's 8th graders. Wanting to put out a christian-based review, especially because the premise deals with "life-after-death", I picked it up. The book started off good: a humorous prologue from the point of view of a dog, a mysterious cruise ship, and a teenage girl asking all the deep questions about life. Then we meet another recently deceased person who died from heroine overdose--the marks on his arm are a little grotesque and the concept may (or may not) be a little serious for younger readers.

Plot/Writing: *****
The book lost steam as it went, sinking into drab writing and a lot of incomplete scenes. The writing in general was emotionless most of the time, not following-up on character's reactions to something shocking or emotionally disrupting. Dialogue felt unrealistic and the reader was told a lot of information instead of being drawn into the story through showing.

A lot of situations had gaps in it (like, why couldn't Liz get her driver's license in Elsewhere just because she's 15 when 7-year-olds are driving?) or just simple roll-your-eyes surprises (like messages in bottles arriving in Elsewhere with a wedding invitation).

Characters: *****
Liz's reaction to finding out she's dead is a disappointing plop. She doesn't seem fazed and gets bored watching her funeral after only a few minutes. Granted, later on she gets obsessed watching them from afar, mostly to see how her best friend is coping with her death and whether or not people are still mentioning her.

The romance in the book was, unfortunately, utterly unbelievable. Owen, an eighteen-year-old with a 34-year-old-brain falls in love with fifteen-year-old angsty, whiny, Liz. Even after he's watched his wife every single week of his death and a surprise situation forces him to choose between the two. Not only that, but the book calls it "love" and they say "I love you", yet Liz doesn't want to get married and remains living with her grandmother.

This book has a bit of language in it (listed at top of post.) Also, Liz observes the act of sex twice through the observation decks set at random points in Elsewhere.  The first one, she watches her parents have sex, which took me by surprise and I certainly didn't want to know. Nothing really comes from this action--no further thoughts or reactions. Why was it necessary? She also watches her best friend lose her virginity on prom night--a step which is, unfortunately, frequently encouraged in high-schoolers.
Spiritual Content: *****
The main issue in this book for a reader who believes in a single, sovereign, loving, God is that Elsewhere "answers" the question of "life-after-death". The answer to that question is that everyone dies and then lives their lives backward until they're babies again, then sent back to earth. Not only does this support the view of reincarnation, but it sounds exhausting! Why would anyone want to live and live and live and live, reliving all the learning processes and never finally resting in God's peace?

The author, Zevin, doesn't deliver this viewpoint as her own solid afterlife beliefs. It's just a "what if" type of answer to the question, but, inevitably the topic of God rises briefly during Liz's early days on Elsewhere. The answer?

"God's there in the same way He, She, or It was before to you. Nothing has changed."

This makes God completely unattached from His creation. It also leaves Him up to any one person's translation of "God". This is incredibly saddening because it reminds me how many people don't understand or accept how deeply He desires relationship for us with Him. He wants to give us peace and rest. 

The only other issue is that everyone on Elsewhere chooses an "avocation" (a job matching their likes and loves), which is supposed to "complete their soul". I don't really know what that was supposed to mean (and the author doesn't go any further in explanation), but this implies one's soul is incomplete when on earth. It also implies that a soul can find full satisfaction in a job. No thank you.  

Overall Recommendation:
Aside from profanities, the skewed view of afterlife and God, and the visions of sex, this book was mostly boring and slow moving. I don't recommend it from many point-of views:
  • As a reader: I don't recommend it because it's slow-moving and not as thought-provoking or developed as the premise could be. Emotion and characters are shallow and disappointing, and the plot is mostly reactive and inconclusive.
  • As a daughter of Christ: I don't recommend it because it minimizes the relationship and power of my all-loving and merciful God. It also turns the afterlife into an exhausting repeat-life absent of all established relationships. It takes away the hope for something greater, satisfying, restful, and permanent. It also takes away the threat of Hell (I know this can be a touchy subject), but if we start telling people it doesn't really matter what you do in life or what you believe, no one will understand the importance of fully surrendering, following, and knowing God. No one will understand the danger wanting to pull their soul into darkness.

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She writes stories about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her debut dystopian novel, A Time to Die, released September 2014 from Enclave Publishing. When Nadine's not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she is out pursuing adventures. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband. You can find out more about Nadine and her books at http://nadinebrandes.com.

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