I received an advanced review copy of this novel from Simon & Schuster UK Children’s, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
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.
In alternating chapters, Afterworlds tells the stories of two teenage girls. One, is ‘Afterworlds’, of Lizzie Scofield, who has access to the Afterworld, can see the dead, and who falls in love with a god of death. The second tells the story of how Darcy Patel sells ‘Afterworlds’ to a publisher, moves to New York, and follows her life – from her first relationship to her first novel, having to do re-writes, to navigating the YA writing world. These narratives feed into each other, with Darcy often explaining the choices she makes to her girlfriend Imogen.
Afterworlds is told with a dual storyline, but unfortunately it felt more like they were duelling storylines. Reading two stories, one chapter at a time, mixed up together, makes for a jarring reading experience. I couldn’t get into much of a reading flow and that made finishing this 600 page book even harder, and an even longer read.
Westerfeld’s characters were rarely realistic, the tone with which they were written was often inconsistent for each character. Both narratives depended heavily (too heavily, in my opinion) on dialogue, occasionally I found myself being pulled out of the story to question whether a real person would have spoken like that, or if the dialogue matches up with how the characters had been built so far. One thing I did find myself believing was the natural progression of the relationship between Darcy and Imogen, it being Darcy’s first relationship, and there being a significant difference of age and experience between the two. There is a moment where Westerfeld doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that a lot of LGBT people don’t make it, and that Darcy is lucky that everything in her first girl/girl relationship has been so easy. Otherwise, this involvement slips in with ease, with understanding parents and friends, and an understanding community. It is nice that it is portrayed as it should be – just normal, and not a ‘big deal’ any more than a first heterosexual relationship would be. I think that fact alone is a pretty big deal, and Westerfeld wrote it well. There was also a cultural and racial diversity that I’m sure will be appreciated, and the inclusion and consideration of Hindu belief systems, gods, and history show reflection on religion that is often lacking in YA fiction.
Other than that, honestly, I felt a bit uncomfortable reading the Darcy parts of this novel. It became clearer and clearer that it was a little bit of a publishing (God, I hate this word) ‘circle-jerk’. In the sense that a lot of what is written just panders to the egos of the publishing industry, to the egos of book-bloggers, the obsessions of Young Adult readers, and to the desires of young writers with author aspirations. Despite one of the narratives heavily informing the choices made in the other, I’d have rather read the novels separately. Especially with Darcy’s novel specifically noting the changes being made to her book (actually, I found it quite spoilery at times). Overall, I felt that the insight, whether very accurate or not, to the publishing industry definitely hindered the suspension of disbelief that is necessary when reading a fictional novel of any genre.
Realistically, as a new book blogger, I found references to blog tours and ARCs really quite annoying. I don’t want a reminder of that link while I’m reading, those things are prevalent enough in the reviewing world anyway. I also think that, for a casual reader, this information might be less informative and more isolating to anybody who doesn’t really understand it.
‘Afterworlds’, the Lizzie narrative, is such a good concept. It could have been written standalone, and afforded much more attention, and it would have been more enjoyable, and received a much higher rating from me. It was a bit of a waste to have this as a sort of secondary narrative.
Scott Westerfeld is very popular in the YA world, and I had really high hopes for Afterworlds. In some ways it didn’t disappoint, but in other ways I was really put off and frustrated. I really tried to like this book, I really did, it just didn’t live up to Westerfeld’s reputation. I won’t say don’t read it, that wouldn’t be my recommendation. You might find it to your tastes, there are plenty of readers who really enjoyed it, but be aware that it’s a long book to commit to if you end up agreeing with me.
My personal rating: 3/5. Amazon average: 3.5/5. Goodreads average: 3.73/5.
Publishers: Simon Pulse / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 23rd 2014
Follow the author on Twitter: @ScottWesterfeld