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Monday, September 22, 2014

Victoria Reviews: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

As soon as I heard that Afterworlds existed, I needed it. A book about a teenage debut young adult author trying to make it in the publishing world of NYC, coupled with the entirety of the novel she’s writing about a girl who can visit the ghostly Afterworld? And it’s by the brilliant Scott Westerfeld? YES PLEASE! I was hooked before I even cracked the spine. But crack the spine I did, and let me tell you, the book was even better than I imagined.

Darcy Patel is 18 years old, she’s just graduated from high school, and she has a book deal. She spent her last November of high school typing 1667 or more words a day for thirty days straight and, through the amazing process of NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month for those who don’t know), emerged with a completed (though unedited) novel. Determined to make it both as an author and as an adult, Darcy delays college and heads to New York to become one with the publishing scene and revise her novel. Through new friendships, books tours, YA author meet-ups, revisions, plotting, book research, and even an unexpected romance, Darcy must not only meet the deadline for revising her novel (a difficult job in itself) but also navigate her new life and take up the responsibilities of an adulthood that she’s not entirely sure she’s ready for yet.

I loved Darcy. She feels so real, and I wish I could befriend her and join her on all her crazy author/writing adventures (including driving a car around NYC with a friend locked in the trunk…anything for research!). Anyone who has ever written fiction at all will relate to Darcy’s struggles and insecurities as she revises her book and as she struggles to become and see herself as a professional author, despite her constant impostor syndrome. She’s funny, witty, and apprehensive, and I found myself really wanting her to succeed. By the end of the book, I cared about Darcy’s happiness and success, especially since the life she makes for herself as an author is one that I supremely envy.

Speaking of authors, this book is full of them. Anyone familiar with YA and YA authors will recognize hints of some of their favorite authors in Westerfeld’s characters. Though they are all completely fictional, the references to the world of young adult fiction and its writers are real and wonderful. On the one hand, it gives the reader the opportunity to see inside and experience that world for themselves through Darcy’s eyes. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that this book contains a great deal of inside jokes and references exclusive to YA authors who have actually been through these experiences. This doesn’t take away from the novel at all; contrariwise, it adds another dimension of realism. It allows the reader to glimpse not only Westerfeld’s fictional YA world but also hints of the world of young adult literature as it actually exists. Darcy’s story also (for me, anyway) reignited my excitement and passion for writing. This book, more than just about anything else I’ve read or seen, made me want to be an author.

Darcy’s book is just as intriguing as Darcy’s own story. Afterworlds, the inner novel for which the book is named, follows Darcy’s character Lizzie after she survives a terrorist attack in an airport. To escape certain death, Lizzie inadvertently slips into the “afterworld,” the strange world that exists between life and death. After this first encounter, Lizzie is able to move between reality and the afterworld with ease, and she starts seeing and encountering ghosts, even in her own home. Helped along by the scared ghost of a little girl and a kind and protective psychopomp who never ages, Lizzie must learn how to use and embrace her newfound powers for good, even when a darker invitation comes knocking.

I couldn’t put this book down. It was really phenomenal. The two stories alternate, with Darcy’s story one chapter and Lizzie’s the next. I was worried that this method would make the stories feel interrupted and that they wouldn’t flow together well, but all my worry was for naught! Both stories fit together flawlessly. It was fun to pick out the bits in Darcy’s life that appear in her novel and observe how the two stories affect each other. I even found myself wishing I could read the other (fictional) YA novels mentioned and quoted in the book, because all of them sound that intriguing!

Afterworlds has earned itself a firm place on my favorite’s shelf (next to everything else Scott Westerfeld has written, of course). Westerfeld shines in this two-in-one-book; it’s well-written, compelling, and it features amazing characters that you can’t help relating to. This book is a must-read for Scott Westerfeld fans, and I’d also recommend this book to anyone who loves YA (of any kind), especially those interested in writing. I think Nerdfighters in particular will also get quite a kick out of this book, though in the interest of not spoiling things, I won’t say why!

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