Afterworlds

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Scott Westerfeld has written a masterfully intertwining story of heightened reality and the creepy supernatural.

This book sat on my shelf for a long time before I finally cracked it open.  I’m not really sure why, other than every time I went to pick it up, I hesitated, and choose another book instead.  It’s a little intimidating at six hundred pages in length, with an ambitious story line.

Darcy Patel is 18 years old, and just signed a two book contract with Paradox Publishing, based on the rough draft of a novel she wrote in 30 days in her senior year of high school. She is moving to New York City to live the life of a YA novelist, leaving behind friends, family, and a college acceptance.

But Afterworlds is more than the story of a young woman living her own life for the first time. It is also the book that Darcy wrote, alternating chapters with her own story. The Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead, and 17 year old Lizzie drifts there, discovering her purpose to help those who are gone. There is a terrorist attack, a crossover to the underworld, a ton of creepiness, and an extremely hot death god, interspersed with Darcy’s first apartment, first job, and first love. It’s amazing.

Westerfeld has written two complex, completely different novels in one, and never seems to force the stories to make them work.  Each chapter flows seamlessly to the next, and their proximity makes sense.  Darcy takes us through the writing of Lizzie’s story, and Lizzie lives it in the novel, even as Darcy is living her own life off the page.

Would a then 17 year old sign a six figure book deal based on the first chapter of a novel she pumped out in 30 days?  I’m going to say probably not, but I don’t care.  It was a necessary twist to set the base for the story/stories, and it was a lot of fun.

I know little to nothing of the publishing industry, but given that Westerfeld has published a LOT, I am going to take him as the expert. So, I will assume that the basics are true, with some literary license taken for fun.  Because if it is all true, and all YA novelists live in awesome apartments in NYC and have drinks together and spend their days eating noodles and drinking and sleeping, and writing and rewriting all night, I am packing my things, kissing the family good-bye, and heading to the Big Apple.  YA heaven, indeed.

I have two criticisms, both fairly benign. The first is Darcy’s novel is the finished product (it seems).  I would have liked it to start out in the early draft stage, and then as Darcy’s own story evolves, so does her writing.

The second criticism is purely editorial/personal/petty. Or maybe it was just a wish. The blurb on the front of the book reads “Darcy writes the words. Lizzie lives them.” I thought, before reading, that there was going to be a supernatural connection between the two girls, that Lizzie was actually living somewhere, her life controlled by a YA author in NYC. That’s not what happens.  But it would have been cool.

All said, Afterworlds was really good.  Any teen can read it, and it is challenging enough to hold anyone’s interest.  I ended up staying up well past my bedtime to finish it.

Afterworlds is published by Simon Pulse.

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