Poised on the brink of turning 16, Liz Hall believes that all good things lie in her future. She will earn her driver's license, graduate high school and go on to college, her first love, marriage and a fulfilling career as a veterinarian. But on the way to help her best friend shop for a prom dress, Liz is killed by a hit-and-run driver.
A story about life begins here. Liz awakens on a cruise ship bound for the afterlife. When the ship docks, she meets her grandmother Betty, who died before Liz was born. Betty looks young and Liz learns then the concept of Elsewhere: Residents youthen all the way down to babyhood when they are sent back to Earth to be reborn.
Liz feels cheated, having "died before getting to do anything fun." And, at first, she spends hours watching her still-living family and friends from off Elsewhere's observation decks. Then she gets a job. Because of her aspirations to work with animals, she chooses to be a counselor to dogs, and the dogs offer endless comic relief in what turns out to be a grandly philosophical book.
Driven by the backward's life concept of the book, oddities abound: a newly dead thirtysomething falls in love with Liz's grandmother, who has youthened to a similar age; and Liz is more than a bit surprised when she meets her boyfriend's wife. But the book has poignant moments, too, as does life. A four-year-old Liz loses the ability to read while trying to work out Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting, a novel -- not so coincidentally I presume -- about everlasting life.
In the end, as Liz heads toward her new "beginning" she begins to conclude that "a life is a good story . . . even a crazy, backward life like hers."
Zevin's ideas of the afterlife drew much criticism upon initial publication (in 2005) from those who believe such ideas should not be offered up, but Elsewhere is much more than a theological platform. The book can be considered to be just a simple statement that no one's life usually works out as planned.
Review by D.