Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Somewhere Else Entirely, Someone Has Done All These Things

Everyone has a book (or two) that could be said, in some ways, to define one's life. I have two. The first is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I keep a copy of the audiobook in my car and listen to it whenever our local NPR station is playing classical music or opera instead of, well, NPR. (Sadly, because I do love NPR, this is a lot.) The other is Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin.

I have read Elsewhere aloud to almost every class I have taught since its publication in 2005. I love Elsewhere. Although I have read it somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 times now (about 30 of those times aloud to a total of about 900 students), I am always delighted to revisit Liz and Owen and Betty and Sadie and Lucy and Aldous and Curtis Jest and Thandi and Alvy, and, I suppose it must be said, even Emily. I wanted to name our dogs Lucy and Sadie, but my daughter overruled me and named them Fiona and Hermione. (I secretly named them Fiona Sadie and Hermione Lucinda and sometimes call them by their middle names, but don't tell my daughter that. Luckily she is a teenager and therefore finds me hopelessly boring, so therefore she never reads this.) Former students message me on Facebook to ask the name of "that great book" because they want to reread it. One of my only reviews on RateMyTeacher includes something to the effect of "We all love the voices she uses when she reads aloud!" I know that student is referring to Elsewhere because it is the only book I read with a special voice for each character. (Although Curtis Jest, regrettably, has an Irish accent, because I just can't seem to manage a good British accent no matter how much BBC America I watch.)

What is it about Elsewhere that I love so much? I don't know. I discover something new each time I read it. And I suppose I like the idea that after we die, we get to see the people we love (maybe) and spend more time together and make things right and maybe even fall in love, and then we get a do-over and the whole cycle starts from beginning, like a circle and a line...

But I didn't intend to focus on Elsewhere in this blog...although it's hard for me to stop once I get started. I just love that book. And of course I have read all of Gabrielle Zevin's other books, too, and I have liked them all in their own way. (My second favorite of all is Margarettown, and not just because my real name is Margaret, but I have only read that twice. Or maybe three times. My daughter's favorite book is Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, and I have mostly forgiven her for that. Mostly.) Really, all that introduction was my way of telling you, dear reader, that I've just read Gabrielle Zevin's newest book, All These Things I've Done. (All that talk about one book when really I'm meant to be talking about another is sort of like asking someone to do the dishes, or practice parallel parking, when really you want to go on a date...oh...wait...I'm doing it again.)

All These Things I've Done is most certainly not Elsewhere. Not. At. All.

Anya Balanchine is the orphaned daughter of the head of an organized crime family whose specialty is chocolate, although they dabble in illegal coffee as well. And Win, the new kid, is also the son of the soon-to-be D.A., a man who clearly cannot allow his only son to fall in love with a girl who has so many ties to organized crime. Oh, did I mention that it is 2083, and chocolate and coffee are illegal? And Anya's older brother, Leo, was disabled and their mother was killed in a botched hit on their father when Anya was 6? It was years later when Anya's father was killed in their apartment as Anya and her little sister Natty watched from under his desk...Oh, and Central Park is barren and Little Egypt is a popular night club in a part of Manhattan known as the Museum Mile, though no one really remembers why...

There are no hints of Elsewhere in All These Things I've Done, and I had to wait a little while to write this while I worked on forgiving it for that. Oh sure, I picked it up and finished it in less than 24 hours, and I am still thinking about it even though I've already finished The Strange Case of Origami Yoda since then (which will get its own blog as soon as I'm done with the sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back). And it must be said that I like Anya, who (like me) is a (mostly) good Catholic girl, and I really like Leo, and I mostly like Win, even though he shares one of my weaknesses, which is being delusionally optimistic, and you know they say you can't like characters who showcase your own flaws...but...I did. Oh, I guess I have to admit it now: I really, really liked this book. And I will read it again, especially because it is the first book in a series, and although I wish the second book in the series would be released tomorrow, it won't, and I'll need to be reminded of who everyone is and how I feel about them before I read the next book...which I will read...probably the day it is released. If I can't get my hands on it sooner.

In the meantime, have you seen my copy of Elsewhere?

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