Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds is a great read and a must for new YA authors. Why? Because it’s about a YA author’s journey from acceptance to published book with many twists and turns and enough YA fiction to keep you turning the pages. Mr. Westerfeld cements the book’s themes right away. The book starts where every author’s publishing journey begins–with the dreaded query letter. I was hooked the second I read that section, and I eagerly devoured any publishing tidbit Mr. Westerfeld threw my way. From YA parties and house-styles, to Darcy Patel’s–the book’s protagonist–insecurities over her edits, writing, and success, Afterworlds teaches as much about YA publishing, if not more, than many publishing websites. It gets into the weeds–speaks to authors about promotion, book tours and events, about success and the industry’s business side. All of this through the eyes of a teen unprepared for what’s about to happen to her. Westerfeld’s Darcy is every author. She struggles with her creation, frets over deadlines, criticisms, and the book itself.
Said book is, in fact, Afterwords, presented in connection and in context with Darcy’s real-world story. Darcy’s Afterwords is a paranormal story with a hint of romance. It’s fast and exciting, and its main character, Lizzie, seems as real as Darcy herself. Lizzie is the only survivor of a terrorist attack at Dulles/FT Worth Airport. A strange change came over her during the assault, and she falls into the Afterworld, a place that’s part underworld, part purgatory. There, she meets, Yamaraj, a fellow psychopomp, or guide for the dead. As Lizzie’s story unfolds, she learns how to use her growing power, despite Yamaraj’s warnings, and starts to fall head-over-heels in love with the handsome young man.
The fictional Afterworlds unfolds alongside Darcy Patel’s path to publication. Mr. Westerfeld balances the two deftly, shrewdly giving the reader tense, compelling chapters from one story exactly when the other one is in exposition. As a result, the book doesn’t hit the lulls frequent in other titles. One story zooms along and when it hits its natural slow scenes, the other picks up.
Darcy is a wonderful character, talented and insecure, and thrown into NYC well before she’s ready. Mr. Westerfeld constantly reminds us of her immaturity by giving her an impulsive nature. She’s on a tight budget but can’t resist the city’s allure. Her relationship with fellow writer and ultimate girlfriend, Imogen White, is touching and tender, especially in how it both advances and hinders her writing. Ultimately, that relationship and its ups and downs–particularly at the end, are mirrored in her final Afterworld revisions. You feel the loneliness and insecurity. The questioning and the fragile faith in both stories. It’s subtle and beautifully handled.
Mr. Westerfeld’s insights into publishing and Darcy’s trials and tribulations are spot on. Including the actual YA book along with Darcy Patel’s journey is a stroke of genius. A careful reader will spot how Darcy’s life and experiences change her novel, particularly at the end–an end that Darcy frets over for much of the book.
This review is from the ARC handed out at Book Expo America, (BEA). On a side note, BEA is one of the book’s many settings. I loved reading about it. Mr. Westerfeld captures it perfectly–as he does with so much of the book.
4.5 Stars. A MUST for authors.
Afterwords is due out in September from Simon and Schuster.