October 16, 2015

Book Review: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

ElsewhereElsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Rating: /5

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Elsewhere has a very unique idea of a story. Actually I was a bit taken aback by its topic of afterlife and how casual the author made it looks like. I was a little worried that this would be the kind of story that too morbid to my liking that would make me feeling strange all day after reading it. Well, it did make me feels strange all day since the moment I turned its last page, but it was this ‘can’t-stop-my-mind-from-wandering-back-to-it’ strange, a little of ‘what-the-hell-did-I-just-read’ strange, and thrown in a ‘weirdly-entertained’ strange. It was every strange feeling all mixed up at the same time, filled my mind with it like that feeling when you watch a foreign ancient cartoon from a country you never heard before. God, even talking about it makes me feel strange…

The Unique Plot
The kind of afterlife Zevin brought up here was this place not much different than Earth with rules that so much different from Earth. I’ll try to put it here as simplest as possible.
People who died on Earth were brought―or rather shipped―with this ship called S.S. Nile to Elsewhere. In Elsewhere, those dead people got to live all over again under one most essential circumstance: instead of growing up and continuing their ages, they aged backward here. It meant, when someone died on the age of 40, they would lived in Elsewhere from the age 40 all the way down to seven days old as they shrunk back into babies (WTH, I know). These babies then would be sent back to Earth through the River so they could be born into a new family and lived a whole new different life.
That’s, people, the main point of the story. It was pretty simple unless the details of the Elsewhere itself was anything but simple.

I’m a Heartless Monster…
I was amazed with how detailed the author described Elsewhere from its setting, its rules, the way of living, to the cycle of ‘life’ people goes through there. And what impressed me more was the fact that she told it all in this casual tone of third person perspective that kept changing from one character to another. At first it was a dog perspective then it was a girl’s perspective then another character. It altered back and forth real smoothly that you didn’t feel bothered by it. And the casual tone I’m talking about here is how the story came out a little more comical than it supposed to be, what with the dead and afterlife topics. The heroine, Liz, was this kind of character who thinks too much and keeps a lot of rather silly opinion of things in her mind. She didn’t even mean it to be funny but it came out that way nevertheless. Even the cause of her death that was real tragic (a hit and run accident) slowly became not that sad as she thought of it over and over again. And I feel really really, truly, bad for saying this, but the way she mulled over the event again and again in her mind made the tragedy sounded more ridiculous than sad. And again, something as sacred as one’s last word could be an evidence of such an embarrassing downfall for human generation when it came to Liz’s. God, this book is trying to turn me into a heartless monster!

Amusing Romance
I almost didn’t have any issue with this book (beside the strange feeling) until Zevin decided to throw in some romance sparks within the story. If you haven’t notice, I’m a big fan of romance. But I know when to not expect romance in a book. Elsewhere becomes one of it. The first half of the book was pretty (weirdly) enjoyable and somehow purposeful (???). When the romance came in, the rest of the story became even weirder than before. It confused the story a little, I think, because all of sudden it was about Liz’s feeling to this Owen guy than her perspective about life in Elsewhere anymore. Somehow I understand the reason why the author felt the need to slip a romance into the story. But the thing is, this book has a characteristic of short-length scenes and fast-paced plot. So the romance was executed quickly: it was insta-love (no doubt). But the interesting part is―God, I can’t believe this―the appearance of romance in this book was only adding material to the humorous part. Owen is a really unbelievable character who’s going through some love-crisis. I’m not even going to reveal what I mean here but there was this scene between Liz and Owen that struck me as what must be the most ridiculous romance scene ever written in a book.

Lesson(s) Learned
Anyway, the ending I can assure was decent. Despite how much I laughed while reading the book, I could see where the author wanted to go with this story. That people, when given a second chance, they tended to second-guessed it than used it as best as they could. In Elsewhere, everyone was given the ‘last’ second chance they could ever get and might be the best one as well because as they aged backward, it also meant to reflect to things they’d had done in their life on Earth. Some wasted it by keeping themselves deep in sorrow, regret, and anger. Some did not. Fifteen years Liz took us to a journey of self-acceptance, appreciating life, and of living in the moment rather than worrying the future that’s uncertain and the past that has passed. Oh, and I loved the analogy of tree that one of the characters used to describe the connection between Elsewhere and Earth. That’s the simplest way to put it!

Final Thoughts
In the end, I don’t know if I have to say that I love this book. Elsewhere is definitely not a bad book but it’s not something that I would want to reread again in the future because of this odd aura that surrounding it. Zevin’s idea of this story was an amazing one and the way of telling she chose for this book was utterly unique. She combined two very different worlds of death and humor and made this genius combination that strangely comical. If I didn’t keep feeling weird while reading this, I was sure this would be one of my favorite books. But all in all, this would be the most unique story I’ve ever read in my life.

Love, read, and review,
Cynthia D.


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