Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2014. All quotes are on an uncorrected text.
“What did a happy ending even mean in real life, anyway? In stories you simply said, ‘They lived happily ever after,’ and that was it. But in real life people had to keep on living, day after day, year after year.”
Eighteen-year-old Darcy Patel is living her dream come true. She has sold her first novel, written during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), to a major New York publisher in a six figure, two book deal. Now she can afford to defer university, and move to New York to pursue her writing career, despite her parents’ objections. On the flipside is seventeen-year-old Lizzie Scofield, Darcy’s protagonist. After a near-death experience during a terrorist attack on an airport, Lizzie, the sole survivor, discovers that she can cross over into the afterworld, and see the dead. There she meets Yamaraj, who shares her powers, but crossed over from the mortal world more than three thousand years ago. As Darcy adjusts to her new life in New York City, she revises Afterworlds for publication, shaping Lizzie’s fate.
Afterworlds is a novel about writing a novel, and it proves interesting to read about Darcy’s experience as a debut novelist going through the difficult process of revising her first book, particularly after her publisher asks her to change the ending. This part of the story will speak strongly to writers, librarians, book bloggers, and other people invested in books and publishing. In New York, Darcy finds a community of fellow writers, who become friends, mentors, and romantic interests. Her intense, complicated relationship with Imogen, a fellow YA writer five years her senior, is a highlight of the book. They share the highs of writing and exploring New York together, but also fight and disagree, and work out their problems. Darcy and Imogen have amazing chemistry, something that was utterly lacking on the flipside between Lizzie and Yama.
The parallel narrative written by Darcy is a little bit more difficult to judge. Lizzie’s sections certainly feel as if they were written by an immature novelist, which speaks well of Scott Westerfeld’s skill at constructing his narrative conceit, but made those sections a bit tiresome to read, since they take up half the book. Lizzie’s POV just didn’t have “the juice” that Darcy and Imogen talk about when they discuss writing, though it was a great concept. This is somewhat distracting when the reader is supposed to believe that Darcy is a talented novelist with enough potential to earn a six figure advance, but not a deal-breaker for the story.
In parallel stories, it is normal to expect a twist, or a crossover, but that isn’t forthcoming in Afterworlds. It is simply two stories, told in alternating chapters, pulling the reader from one storyline to the other. They are connected only by the fact that the protagonist of one story wrote the other. Occasionally we see glimmers of Darcy’s life, conversations, and epiphanies in her book, but mostly the two plotlines remain at a distance from one another. Parallel narratives are really about how the writer brings them together or plays them off one another, and Westerfeld does so only in the most minimal ways, letting Darcy’s real life growth and experience show in her writing. More interesting exercise than compelling narrative, Afterworlds will nevertheless appeal to bookish sorts as a fun and unique look at the writing life.
You might also like Uglies by Scott Westerfeld