31 Days of Teens’ Top Ten: Elsewhere

Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen book groups in fifteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Support Teen Literature Day during National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year. Each day during the month of May, The Hub featured a post about Teens’ Top Ten. Today’s post concludes an incredible month of 31 Days of Teens’ Top Ten! Thank you to everyone who contributed with blog posts, comments, tweets, and more. This has been a wonderful success.

Meet Elizabeth “Liz” Marie Hall. She’s 15 years old, never kissed a boy, never graduated from High School, driven a car, or gone to prom. When Liz is killed in a hit and run accident she finds herself on a ship, The SS Nile, headed to Elsewhere, a land that looks much like her life before, but is very different. For starters, her Grandmother, Betty, who died before Liz was born, greets her as she exits the ship. On Elsewhere people age backwards from the age of their death until they are babies and are sent down a river to be born again. On Elsewhere there is an Observation Deck where people can view the family they left behind through binoculars, though contact is strictly forbidden, and every person must have an avocation; a job they actually like to do. Elsewhere, spans Liz’s entire (after)life experience as she struggles to understand what has happened to her, mourns the life she has lost and stubbornly learns to participate in her new life.

This 2006 TTT selection is a moving, funny, and original book that stayed with me after finishing it. Gabrielle Zevin tackles the large philosophical question of “where do we go after we die?” through the experience of the death and afterlife of the protagonist, Liz. Elsewhere‘s relatively short chapters move quickly and are laced with emotion. They always include a realization or new information taking the reader along for the journey at the same rate as the protagonist. This is a wonderful way to address the heavy and philosophical subject matter, such as death at a young age, grief, the question of an afterlife, the existence of God, reincarnation, and more. And she does it by employing humor and creating a lively setting. The book is particularly poignant because it deals with the complexities and questions often faced when someone one knows dies at a young age, except that it is Liz, herself, who must come to accept this fact. While we do get invested in other characters, such as Liz’s Grandmother, Betty, and her love interest, Owen, these characters serve more as foils, accompanying, guiding and illuminating things about Liz as she struggles to accept her death and her new existence, and to ultimately find that “life is a good story..even a crazy, backward life like hers.”

Note: Readers will be surprised to find out, in an interview included in the back of the book, that Zevin does not care much about the afterlife.

— Cristina Mitra, currently reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan, which was a 2010 Honor Audiobooks selected by the the YALSA Odyssey Committee