Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

I stumbled upon Afterworlds while browsing a bookstore with a friend last month. I bought it on a whim, as I vaguely recalled liking the author Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series which I read a couple of years ago. This novel was publish in 2014 ; it features two completely different but intertwining stories. I was curious to see how it would be written and learn more about Darcy, a new writer heading for NYC. I wondered, would Westerfeld be able to weave, with success, two distinct narratives? I purchased the novel being intrigued by the summary and looking forward to answering my question.

This novel has a peculiar form as it alternates between two stories featuring two distinct heroines, settings and genres, one chapter at a time. On one hand, there is the story of Darcy Patel a recent high school graduate whose first novel has been sold to a great publishing agency in New York City. Using her advance money, she moves there on her own, in order to follow through the rewriting of her draft before her book ‘Afterworlds’ officially finds itself in bookstores. In Darcy’s chapters, Westerfeld dissects the writing process. From the drafts, the rewrites, the promotional aspects and events , all are part of her journey as an upcoming writer.Even though writing is an artistic project, the importance of sales and deadlines as well as respecting the author’s vision are recurring subjects likewise in reality. Particularly, Darcy struggles to find the perfect ending for Afterworlds. She rewrites it multiple times trying to please both herself and her editor.This story focuses on writers’ lifestyles and immerses the reader into the Young Adult publishing scene. In some ways, I found it glamorized a young writer’s life in N.Y.C, as she is offered a lump sum in her publishing contract and finds housing rather easily which seems unrealistic. However, although she takes part in a book tour, book signings and a few parties these events aren’t over the top. There are no expensive mansions or celebrities and masses of adoring fans. The promotional gigs are entertaining with a decent dose of authenticity. Darcy Patel absolutely does not rise to fame overnight, which would have been cliché and superficial.

Parallel to Darcy’s journey is Lizzie’s story which falls into radically different genres: a paranormal romance and thriller that is actually written by Darcy Patel.  Lizzie is Darcy’s cherished heroine who suffers a great amount of trauma and becomes a sort spiritual guide for the dead.She herself has one in the form of an Indian death god.In the beginning, Lizzie  survives a traumatic terrorist attack at the airport by bringing herself into the afterworld. Essentially, she plays dead and it saves her life. The afterworld is a grey colored universe where ghosts and ‘death guides'(both good and evil) roam. It is in this “universe” at the airport where she first meets Yamaraj, the Indian death god. Their relationship evolves as a romantic one which was predictable but not sappy. Yamaraj  does prove to be a good mentor to Lizzie as to understanding her new responsibilities. I can see why this love interest is present as it is Darcy’s novel,(well, Westerfeld writing as her) a teenage girl entangled with popular culture and discovering love. After the attack, of which she is the sole survivor, she finally returns home in San Diego with her mother, where she encounters a ghost that has haunted them for over a decade.The ghost is named Mindy; she is an eleven year old girl who was kidnapped and murdered in the 1970s. Mindy was a friend of Darcy’s mother. She becomes Lizzie’s sidekick of sorts and a good friend, as she follows her to many of her misadventures both in the real world and in the afterworld. These chapters are darker and grittier than those featuring Darcy. Effectively, Lizzie has a strong need for revenge for all the torment Mindy endured and takes matters in her own hands. In this process, she comes to face two dangerous and frightening men with their own agendas.

Afterworlds is a heavy 600 pages, it is captivating even though some moments are  less interesting. The chapters are not too lengthy and the two stories are well balanced. I enjoyed picturing the protagonists who come from different backgrounds, different towns and familial situations. I admired that these are independent young women who aren’t afraid to face their fears on their own. They take risks and follow their instincts.The characters are written in a convincing manner. Indeed, the strongest aspect of this novel is Westerfeld’s writing which encompasses the protagonists’ youth and personality. For instance, he manages to capture Darcy’s many insecurities about her writing and the future of her novel as well as her obliviousness about adulthood and love. She might come across as irresponsible and careless  at times, particularly concerning her dwindling finances considering her younger sister Nisha made her a budget. However, Darcy is preoccupied by fitting in the writers’ crowd and being accepted by her new acquaintances including writers that she admired. She also questions her use of Indian mythology in her novel and thinks about the perception that readers will have of it since she made her own interpretation of  the Vedas. In writing ‘Afterworlds’ Darcy changed most of the Indian death god Yamaraj’s characteristics in order to fit with her novel.

Finally, to answer my initial question, Scott Westerfeld does succeed in establishing two distinct narratives with two protagonists that have their share of similarities and differences. The writing of Lizzie’s story by subtle phrases and plot twists blends  believably with Darcy’s voice as a writer. Also, there is an underlying sense that writing and publishing is accessible which I thought was inspiring.Throughout the book, Darcy and Lizzie mature and learn valuable lessons about what growing up entails as well as the necessity of friendships and honesty. In the end, both characters do find closure in different ways.

I rate Afterworlds 3/5.

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