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Anywhere But Here, Ella West

June 4, 2011

Anywhere But Here Book blurb

We may have escaped the Project but there is more….’ Nicky 

Like wanted criminals, Nicky and the other travellers are on the run.  But what’s their crime?

They all have an extraordinary gift: the ability to transport themselves anywhere, through the powers of thought alone.  Pursuing the travellers is the Project, an organisation that abducted them from their parents, virtually enslaving them, and pushed them to carry out secret missions.  Until they escaped.

Now the five teenagers are in Los Angeles, trying to keep one step ahead of their pursuers.  They might make it if they work as a team – but loyalties are shifting.

In one head-long dash, the travellers must find out what they want and who they want to be, but the Project is shadowing their every move.

The sequel to Thieves, and the second novel in a planned trilogy, Anywhere but Here is a taut, tersely written race against time.

‘[Thieves] is the best teenage science fiction novel I have read this century.’ Trevor Agnew, Magpies

[Back cover, Ella West (2008) Anywhere But Here.  Longacre Press: Dunedin.]

Anywhere But Here First Page

“Starting Blocks

It is the beginning of a race. The gun goes off, except somehow I am holding it, not the race official.  But it doesn’t matter because we’re all away and going for it as hard as we can – we’ve finally escaped from the Project.

We are travellers.  Jake and his younger sister Shelley, her best friend Tina, Paul and me – Nicky. You’re probably thinking, what’s she on about? Anyone can travel.  Anyone can jump in a car, get on a bike, a bus or whatever, but it’s not like that.  I can disappear from one place and arrive in the next.  I can think of a place I know, or have seen in photographs, and then I am there.

Don’t ask me how I do it.  I don’t know. No one seems to know.  Not our instructors or anyone at the Project, not any of us.

We all do it differently.  Paul can travel to people, Jake can only seek out his sister because he wants to protect her or something like that, Tina can travel to things, ….”

[p6, Ella West (2008) Anywhere But Here.  Longacre Press: Dunedin.]

Themes in the novel


Possible directions for study/questions to apply to Anywhere But Here:

Some of these questions are also applied to Thieves in my summary of that book, because they are worth repeating in this, the second book in the trilogy.  New questions are simply mixed in.  Consider:

The structuring and style of the novel:

  • Within the first couple of paragraphs, we are reminded – if we didn’t already know – that Nicky, the narrator-protagonist, is ‘special’ (“Finders are not seekers, and seekers are not finders, except for me” p7).  She does not live “in a normal world” which means, it seems, that her problems are different; Paul, for example, is both not her boyfriend and ‘more than’ her boyfriend (p7). What is her relationship with Paul, we are invited to wonder.  We are invited to engage with Nicky so closely in these paragraphs… why?
  • In the first, two-page chapter (a prologue of sorts), Nicky sums up the events of Thieves and explains “So now we’re on the run but we know the Project can’t be far behind.” … The crisis that will drive events in this novel, it seems, is clear from the outset… how does this influence our engagement with the text?
  • How does the novel end with regards to this crisis? The trilogy?
  • What effect does this prologue section have on our approach to the story?  What does it set up that couldn’t happen by simply starting at chapter one?
  • Who is the narrator? Why have Nicky tell this story? What does the ‘first person’ narrative add to the story being told (I am thinking in particular of the experience of power and the play on our big brother fears)?  Is Nicky’s narration of Anywhere But Here in any way different to her narration of Thieves?
  • When Nicky wonders, “Can I ever go back? Really go back?” I think she is capturing a major concern of this trilogy.  Events can impact on us in unforgettable ways… but is innocence, once lost, truly irretrievable or is it a state of mind? Was that happy, innocent, detached person that Nicky used to be – and misses being – ‘innocent’ because she ‘lacked certain knowledge’? Or because she didn’t have to deal with certain people/choices/challenges, etc?  There is a cultural concern here that is interesting… and it connects directly to the choice of a first-person, present-tense narrative… something to do with our relationship with the past and the way in which we believe we change or grow – as people, and also into adulthood out of adolescence… Clearly I’m identifying something interesting, not explaining it!

Characterisation, relationships, community, and society…

  • How does Nicky (as the narrator) portray the travellers’ relationships?
  • How do the travellers see themselves? How do we know (if Nicky is the narrator)? Does their self-image influence the flow of events?
  • Does the travellers’ knowledge of themselves change over the course of the novel? What effect does this have on the story; on the reader’s view of these adolescents; on adolescence in general?
  • How do the travellers’ actions define them? In the novel, how do one’s actions lead to consequences, that in turn, determine a character’s (or his community’s) fate?
  • Indeed, do actions have consequences in this novel? What about innate characteristics?  What of the travellers’ inherent abilities; their ‘nature’? How do the their ‘natures’ determine their fate?
  • Are these characters strong/weak?… (how do you know this?) How does this shape the story being told? If strong – where do they get their strength from; if weak – where does this come from?
  • Where do the main characters’ strengths/weaknesses come from/lie? Are they social, physical, internal, familial, communal, economic, spiritual, etc.? Do the characters have imagination, ‘inherent’ abilities, ‘taught’/’learned’ skills, ‘personalities’ to draw on…?
  • Nicky and her fellow travellers have this ability to ‘travel’ (to ‘find’ or to ‘seek’).  Where does it come from? How do they know how to use it? It seems as if the ability to travel is an inherent one – ‘part of who they are’ – BUT they can be taught to use it better; they can hone their skills with instruction, assistance and practice.  It feels culturally significant to me that the ability that makes them unique is conceived in this way… I just have to think it through a bit more!
  • How do the travellers’ relationships impact on the course of events; on the possibilities open to the protagonists and other characters?   What is the message the reader takes from the relationships and their development in this novel?  My inclination is that there a ‘strength in numbers,’ ‘together we can do anything‘ premise to how things pan out; to how the story flows.
  • How is friendship portrayed?  What benefits/difficulties does it bring?
  • What community does Nicky have around her? Who can she rely on? How have things shifted from Thieves?
  • Who are the villains? Do we know for sure?  Why surround the concept of villainy with uncertainty?
  • What is threatened in this story? What is the problem? How is it resolved (is it?)?
  • As with Thieves, Christmas enters into this novel.  Again, what significance does Nicky give Christmas?  How does this family ritual shape the reader’s understanding of ‘the Project’?
  • What line does ‘the Project’ cross when it refuses Jake and Tina condoms and indicates that Tina getting pregnant by a fellow traveller would be desirable? How does this shape the reader’s understanding of the Project? And her relationship with Nicky?
  • Do these social boundaries (Christmas/ teenage sex and pregnancy) – and the manner in which the Project keeps trampling over them – uphold some social notion of individual rights? How do the reader’s expectations for ‘the individual’ in a global society impact on our reading of this book?
  • My interest insupport structures enters into my analysis of these novels, but I’d like to think through it a bit more, before I get into answering them!
  • Consider how society and the individual are connected – legally, morally, etc..  How are they connected in this novel?
  • How many characters are there in these novels?  It might be worth classifying them (by age, qualities, power, etc).  How much is each character described?  My sense is that part of the isolation surrounding the travellers and reinforcing the reader’s experience of their powerlessness is in the absence of these things from the text.  Nicky could see them, but find them unapproachable… instead, they simply do not exist…. it seems to connect with the idea that a conspiracy needs unknown protagonists (hidden from view) to become a conspiracy… I need to think about it more!
  • It is worth identifying the ideas about ‘teenagers’ that underly this story.  Consider for example, Nicky’s reference to “things teenagers are never meant to see, experience, be a part of” (p172)  What are these things? What is truly ‘normal’?!
  • I have the sense that these characters ‘learn’ a lot in these novels – but not through formal education that most readers would recognise. Rather, most of their education is forced on them, unwanted, but useful for hand-to-mouth survival.  The nature of this style of education is interesting. As a context, certainly, education is a common one to put teenage protagonists in and create stories around.  It is almost ‘natural’.  These teenagers are learning, but not ‘traditionally’. What is different? How does this difference impact on the reader’s connection with the text?

Place in the novel:

  • Is there a strong sense of place in this novel?  
  • How important is the setting to the story told?
  • Consider the use of verbs and adjectives… In Chapter Twelve, for example, Nicky wakes up when Paul shakes her shoulder and tells her they need to get moving.  “‘Where?’ I ask, still half asleep. ‘We have to keep moving.  I’ve got you some breakfast.  Have a shower first and get dressed.’ I hear the bedroom door shut behind him.” This is just a snippet, but it is fairly representative of the story as a whole.  We are given no sense of the room in which Nicky wakes up; no sense of the environment in terms of, for example, the sun streaming in, shaggy carpet, or cracks in the ceiling, etc.  It is as if there is no time to notice such things – it is time to wake up because they need to keep running, not because the sun is up. Nicky’s environment is made up of movement – of Paul moving, the bedroom door shutting, the need to have a shower, get dressed, get breakfast.  This constant movement is the environment in which Anywhere But Here takes place.  At the beginning of Real Life, the next and last novel in the series, Nicky states, “places are not important. People are.” (p6)… I get a sense of this from the first two books, too… the importance of place in these novels is worth analysing! alongside the language used… and the relationships formed… .
  • Consider also, Nicky’s question, “How much does a situation, an environment, change us? Does it last?  Because I shot a man, am I never going to be the same again?” (my emphasis, p174) … or Nicky’s despair when she yells at Paul that “There is nowhere to go” (p184).  What values, emotions, attitudes, needs are vested in ‘places’? How is Nicky’s experience of place different to what we know?
  • I really need to work on this more as a trilogy, so… to be cont…


  • Is this trilogy part of a coming-of-age story? What makes it so? What is maturity in this novel? What signals adulthood/independence?
  • The trilogy is described as a thriller… what makes it so (in terms of language used, plot, characterisation, setting, etc.)?
  • In Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, it is noted that “Nothing is more frightening than a fear you cannot name.” (p111)  This comment could as easily be applied here. Though the Project represents many things, the Travellers do not know the where, what, who, how, etc of it…  How is this fearful sensation passed on to the reader, though – in terms, perhaps, of the language and plot?  Other sayings that suggest a similar way into this text are “you need to know the beast to slay it” and “better the devil know than the one you don’t”.
  • As mentioned in my summary of Thieves, the Project seems to describe itself as an international organisation designed to benefit people. Does this description hold throughout Anywhere But Here?  What social fears does ‘the Project’ play on to create this journey for the reader? Does this help the reader approach this novel through specific generic conventions?
  • What does this novel do in terms of issues of class, ethnicity, gender…?


  • How is language used in this novel? To what effect? Someone somewhere described West’s writing as ‘taut prose’.  Is it? How does the language help create the novel? How does it add to our sense of ‘Big Brother is watching’?
  • How much is in the future tense, the past, the present? to what effect?
  • Does the language differ in any way from Thieves?
  • What do we know of each of these characters from the first book? And does this perception change during the course of reading this, the second book in the trilogy?
  • Time, timetables, rituals (like Christmas and birthdays), travel-time (and concepts of distance and whereabouts) feature hugely.  They are referred to continually and add to the plot – but how is time arranged in this novel to create the power relationships around the travellers and the Project?  How is it described? How is it connected to power in the novel?
  • Consider also the symbolism attached to Christmas… and how Nicky connects it to freedom (the last lines of the novel, certainly, are “It’s Christmas Eve.” (p200))… then ask how this ritual motivates the reader to engage with Nicky’s race against time – and how it makes time critical in the novel.
  • The language is distinctive in these novels.  Analyse the style. How does it support the story being told?
  • What figurative language is used? When? How often?!
  • As mentioned above (in the place section), the verbs used are worth considering; what type(s) of verbs; what adverbs accompany them, etc. For example: “‘We’ve just got to keep running or they will find us.  Tomorrow, we’ll go somewhere else.  We can’t stay more than one night in each place. It was stupid to have stayed so long at Venice Beach.  We should never have done it.’ But how long can we keep running? That’s what Jake had asked. We can run until the Project finds us.” (p94)  The other thing evident from this small section of text is the constant reference to timeframes that are relative to here and now – and being on the run…. but these time markers are not ritualistic in any way (they’re all ‘tomorrow’, ‘one night’, etc – rather than after Christmas, etc.)


  • There is a huge element of political violence/control; organisational domination of the individual; international disregard for legal rights… how might this be read in terms of violence?
  • At the end of Thieves, Nicky shot and killed a man, which clearly disturbed her – but we were invited to excuse this act of violence as both self-defense and defense of an injured loved one (an excuse made acceptable by NZ law) [NB p197: “I shot him.  I killed him.’ ‘You had to, or he would have killed you and Jake and probably every one of us. You did what you had to do.'”].  How is this act described in Anywhere But Here?
As I think of things to add, it will show up under the Ella West or Thieves or Anywhere But Here tags, to be found in the word cloud to the right.

Texts that invite comparison

I’ll get back to this in my blog on Real Life so that I can think of this with the whole trilogy in mind…

So start with the rest of the trilogy, of course…

It might be interesting to compare this trilogy with the Dreamhunter sequence, by Elizabeth Knox (in terms of friendship).

Much of the novel consists of dialogue (especially between Nicky and her fellow travellers), so it is worth considering what type of language they use – and when (or in what situations) we would use this language.  It seems to me that much of their dialogue is simple, direct, lacking in adjectives; instructional or questioning.  It is active, make-things-happen language; it is agentic, but pressured language… I think?  It is language that keeps up the suspense, the urgency, the uncertainty.  It would be worth comparing the style of this novel with Margaret Mahy’s style in The Changeover, for example.  The language Mahy uses in that novel is the ‘language of narrative’; of ‘story-telling’…. The language of Anywhere But Here, in contrast is the language of urgency, response and action (action without time to ruminate)… But, both novels have ‘adolescent love’ as a feature of the plot, so what is different about these novels?  Their differences might well prove revealing of each other!!!

As mentioned in my blog on Thieves, this concept of a ‘Big Brother‘ with international reach and influence is an interesting threat and a social concern that invites comparison with other texts that also explore such power (Robert Cormier….).  

How to use this blog

Mindmaps help me think critically.  They help me see the links between things and plot a course through all the observations and questions that a text provokes when I read it ‘as a text.’  This blog is a mindmap of sorts; full of random thoughts and relevant-seeming quotations or ideas.

  • There is a tag cloud to the right of the blog, which shows the topics I am exploring as ‘tags.’
  • You can also use the search bar at the bottom of the page to see if a particular word/book/author/theme is mentioned.
  • Each time I bring a NZ author into the discussion for the first time, I add an “Introducing the author” blog. This is easily found at the beginning of the section under that author.
  • I have a section titled ‘Blog Notes’ in which I explain my blogging style.
  • I have a ‘Literary Resources’ section which includes general ideas on literature and its study as well as the questions I apply to any text I study.
  • These questions (eg. Character Questions) may be useful to any other reader wishing to look at this text differently (refer to very early on in the blogging history of this section).
  • I absolutely welcome discussion: comments, suggestions, ideas, criticisms… please do!

Wests’s Anywhere But Here: a History

Awards won:  

Finalist for the SFFANZ (Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand) Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2009

Publishing History:

First published by Longacre Press (now owned by Random House), 2008, it is the second in a trilogy.  The first book is Thieves; the third, Real Life.

Bibliography of secondary literature:

Author information:

Refer earlier blog: Introducing Ella West  

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