by Scott Westerfeld
Original Publication Date: September 23, 2014
Length: 599 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Obtained Via: Borrowed from the library
View at the Traffic light:
Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she’s made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…
Told in alternating chapters is Darcy’s novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the ‘Afterworld’ to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved – and terrifying – stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.
Afterworlds is such a strange and interesting book. It revolves around Darcy, a teen writer who gets a great book deal and moves to New York, and the novel she wrote called Afterworlds. Since that title pertains to both Darcy’s book and Westerfeld’s book, I’ll use Afterworlds to signify I’m talking about the book as a whole and Afterworlds to talk about the book Darcy wrote.
So basically after writing Afterworlds for NaNoWriMo, Darcy gets a HUGE advance. Even though her draft of Afterworlds needs some polishing, the idea is interesting enough that it lands her an agent and a publishing deal. Afterworlds is the story of Lizzie, a girl who is the only survivor of a terrorist attack at an airport. She survives the attack by playing dead, but it works so well that she ends up being able to see the underworld–she can see both living and dead people, and interact with the dead. During her trip to the “flipside”, as they call it, in the airport, she meets Yamaraj, another one like her. This event sets her off on an adventure of learning how to navigate both worlds, taking revenge on a murderer, and guiding souls to the underworld.
Lizzie’s story isn’t perfect, but it is pretty unique and it’s not a bad book on it’s own. The stakes are high for Lizzie and the concept is fresh, which is probably what kept me intrigued by Afterworlds. I saw some reviews say they skipped these chapters, and while I do think Lizzie’s story isn’t as interesting as Darcy’s, I found it a fairly good read on it’s own. It’s not without problems–potential cultural appropriation(which is addressed in Darcy’s chapters and actually a big source of inner conflict for her), and a lackluster romance–but it’s not suppose to be perfect. Everyone keeps reminding Darcy that it’s her debut novel, and they think she’ll only get better.
Which brings us to Darcy’s story. Darcy decides to forgo college for the time being and move to New York to revise Afterworlds and write the first draft of the sequel. Darcy has to deal with some pretty specific author-things, but she also has to navigate the world of adulthood. Between finding an apartment, trying to fit in with the writer’s crowd, and figuring out her novels, Darcy has a lot on her plate.
It’s easy to get frustrated with Darcy and her bad choices(like going over her budget for an apartment), but as I continued reading I found myself growing in sympathy for her. I loved the passages where she talked about her writing struggles with other writers. It all just felt so real and I often found myself nodding along to those parts, even if some of the publishing parts surprised me. The exploration of Darcy’s insecurity when it came to writing felt genuine–every writer has those, and for Darcy her young age only compounded that.
While I enjoyed Darcy’s part of Afterworlds more than the story she wrote, there were a few things that lessened my enjoyment. Darcy strikes up a relationship with another young writer, Imogen. I WANTED to root for them, I really did, but I didn’t understand why they were into each other. I understood Darcy’s adoration of Imogen, since Imogen was a few years older but still closer to her age than the other authors and she reached out to Darcy. I had more trouble understanding how that moved from friendship to relationship so quickly and their romance felt fairly flat to me, much like the romance Darcy wrote into Afterworlds. I didn’t find myself disliking either couple, but I just didn’t see the basis for a relationship in either story.
Also, I’ve come to decide that I don’t really think Scott Westerfeld’s writing style is for me. I tried reading the Uglies series a few years back, and had a mixed level of success with that. While I enjoyed the story of Afterworlds far more than his previous books, there’s something about his writing style that doesn’t jive with me. This book isn’t badly written, and I thought Darcy’s story was more interesting than Lizzie’s, but I actually found myself enjoying the writing style of the Lizzie chapters more than the Darcy ones, even though it was unpolished at places.
That being said, I love how self-aware Afterworlds was. It was super intriguing to see a bit of the curtain being pulled back and reading about things like Darcy’s editorial letter, a conversation about why a book wasn’t selling well, how Darcy didn’t know what she should be doing on social media, BEA, etc. Sometimes when books are about writers they come off as being self-indulgent, but Afterworlds never felt that way. Darcy’s story starts off as writer wish-fulfillment–getting an agent through a first draft! A huge advance! etc, but it soon becomes clear it’s more than that.
Plus, it was super fun to read a book about characters talking about a book I was also reading. Afterworlds isn’t perfect. . . and everyone KNOWS that. At one point Darcy thinks about how people told her she had a great first chapter, but the next few were kind of boring in comparison. . . and it was so absolutely true. There are just so many meta layers to this story. It’ll hurt your head if you think about it too much.
Much like Afterworlds, I didn’t find Afterworlds perfect either. . . but both stories were intriguing enough that I read this 600 page book in two sittings, which I haven’t been doing lately.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Afterworlds, even if Scott Westerfeld’s writing style isn’t for me. While I didn’t really understand the romance in either story, the plot was intriguing enough for me to get really invested in the story. By the halfway point, I wanted Darcy to succeed(even though she made a TON of questionable decisions), and I wanted to know how she ended Lizzie’s story. 4/5 cupcakes.