Scott Westerfeld Penguin Published 24th September 2014 Bought from Megalong Books in Leura, NSW
Since hearing of its impending release all the way back in April at PTALive, I have been eagerly awaiting Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds. Afterworlds is not just one story, but two – the story of Darcy Patel, a high school graduate who just sold the novel she wrote during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those not in the know) told alongside the story she wrote, titled Afterworlds.
This is an impressive work. Merging a contemporary novel about a young author finding herself in New York City and a paranormal romance about a girl who enters the ‘afterworld’ during a near-death experience, this may not appeal to everyone. But as a genre-hopper, I loved it. There’s always the problem with alternating chapters that you feel like you haven’t got enough of the story you’re reading, the one you prefer, but my preferred story changed with every chapter. I was invested in Darcy’s story and then wrapped up in Lizzie’s – I didn’t know which one I wanted to read more.
The two stories complement each other rather than clashing – I feel like one couldn’t have been told without the other. Reading Lizzie’s story, we can relate to everything Darcy says about her novel, as she deliberates about her inclusion of a Hindu death-god borrowed from her own religion which she has mostly ignored, her ending, her worry that her mother will find parallels in the novel with a real life event. Reading the story of one girl is reading the story of the other.
Darcy’s storyline introduces us to the world of YA publishing in New York and it is dripping with satire. It is fantastic, watching a successful YA author take apart his own world. The world for authors is not all ‘YA heaven’ and Darcy soon realises she has a lot of growing up to do – including shopping for mops! For the first time in her life, Darcy is managing her own money, living by herself, having to provide for herself and work, because writing a novel is so much more than the first draft. Her novel, Lizzie’s storyline, is full of YA tropes and the typical love interest for the purpose of “YA hotness” as well as the damsel in distress being saved by the hero and of course the more or less insta-love, despite the insistence that “this one is different”.
I loved the dialogue. It was so realistic. For once I wasn’t thinking, ‘teenagers don’t really speak like that’. How common in teenager language is ‘what the actual f*ck’ and how often do we read it? Hardly ever! I also loved, in Darcy’s storyline, the talk of TBRs and ARCs and talking about world building and all that other writer stuff. She goes to Book Expo America (somewhere I am dying to go)! It was all integrated so smoothly, as was the fact that Darcy didn’t even know what she considered her sexuality to be until she meets Imogen and also her struggle with her right to use Hindu-ism in her books. It all flowed so well. Even when I wanted to bang my head against the table because I could see her throwing away money in her somewhat ridiculous apartment and she was possessive and jealous, I still felt it was brilliantly constructed narrative. And Darcy is not a character I would usually have time for, mainly because I couldn’t stand the way she spoke to Imogen. But she was real. And it was all done just so well, so brilliant, damn you Scott Westerfeld, I loved this book.