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 was relevant to my interests in so many levels–as a YA reader, as a wannabe writer, as a young adult slowly beginning to explore a more adult world. I was hooked on this book from the beginning due to its unique concept. I hung on to every detail brought up about the publishing process. Darcy’s voice felt so real, and I loved learning about the experience on the other side of the signing table, combined with Darcy’s struggles being an adult on her own, paying for an apartment and utilities and dealing with a serious relationship (with another woman! representation in fiction is always super important!) for the first time.
Darcy’s story is paired with the book she wrote, with the chapters alternating between Darcy and her protagonist Lizzie. I liked the fact that the book was included, but didn’t like the book itself, if that makes sense. When a fictional book-within-a-book is mentioned I generally get very curious about it, so I like that we actually got to read it here. I also liked seeing the interplay between Darcy’s and Lizzie’s stories–Darcy would learn a new word and put it in the book, or an exchange in the book would mirror one of Darcy’s conversations in real life. However, I was generally not engaged in the Lizzie chapters, and I found myself skimming through them to get back to what I was really interested in. I understand that it was Darcy’s first book, and for the most part Westerfeld and Darcy both seem aware of the PNR cliches it includes, but that doesn’t make reading it any more enjoyable.
[SPOILERS] I felt like the conflicts in the end of the book were resolved a little too quickly. Darcy suddenly comes up with an idea for a sequel based on someone else’s comment, she figures out her relationship with Imogen, it’s strongly implied that she and Imogen are going to move in together, so her being late on her lease doesn’t matter…everything felt a little too convenient for me. The book comments multiple times on how lucky Darcy is, and Darcy is aware that she will have to stop relying on luck at some point, but for the most part she never actually has to.
As I said previously, I didn’t enjoy the Lizzie chapters at all. There were sparks of good writing, and there were some cool concepts, but the characters were flat, the romance was extremely insta-love, and the plot was never really engaging. I do think Scott Westerfeld wrote it that way on purpose, and Darcy realizes the problems with her book throughout. Still, the Lizzie chapters were half of the book, and I think feeling the need to skim through half of a 600-page book is legitimate grounds for complaint.
The book was so wonderfully meta! There are references to things most YA fans know about–NaNoWriMo, BEA, collecting ARCs. One of the authors Darcy meets is almost certainly based on John Green. The characters discuss cultural appropriation and novels not selling well due to inclusion of LGBT characters. There was some really good commentary on the YA publishing industry. One moment I particularly enjoyed was the other authors trying to guess the love interest in her book (a selkie? a golem? what hasn’t been done yet?). The exploration and occasional satire of the publishing world made the book sharp and unique.
We get to explore this world through the eyes of a teenage girl who quickly realizes she’s sort of out of her depth. I loved her mix of fear and exhilaration at meeting her favorite authors, and her wondering if she really belongs with them, or if the world somehow made a mistake in letting this happen. She also struggles with living on her own (paying for her apartment and for necessities) and with her first relationship; this grounded the book, and made Darcy’s life very relatable despite her…unique circumstances. Darcy makes some very bad decisions, but I was never angry at her, because I have the feeling I would have made those decisions too.
Afterworlds is fun, intelligent, and moves very quickly despite its length. If you want a good coming of age story or are curious to learn what life as a YA writer is like, I definitely suggest picking it up.