Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Darcy Patel spent a month during her senior year furiously writing a complete YA novel. It's been picked up by a large book publisher and Darcy puts off college to edit the book as well as write and edit a sequel. She moves to New York City for a change of scenery, encountering other authors (both debut and seasoned) to help her survive in the city and the publishing industry. The first book she's writing is called Afterworlds and features Lizzie, a girl who can travel to the space between living and dead after being the sole survivor in a terrorist attack. Both girls fall in love, experience heartbreak. and have adventures they never expected to have.
Afterworlds is two novels in one. One is in our world with Darcy Patel, debut young adult author struggling to finish her first book, and the other is in a fictional world with Lizzie, survivor and psychopomp (one who escorts the dead to the afterlife and yes it sounds weird). They are told in alternating chapters with no indication when it switches save for change of point of view. Each story is distinct and I never had a problem guessing which one I was in at any given point. Although the book is lengthy at over 600 pages, both stories kept momentum and my interest.
I honestly expected Darcy's story to be insanely boring and hard to get through compared to the much more exciting other story that has ghosts, another world, and a cute and mysterious death god. Contemporary fiction isn't my favorite genre either. I was pleasantly surprised when her story was equally thrilling and entertaining to read. Her story has more things every day people can relate to: the detachment from her familial culture, the discovery of her sexuality, her first relationship, and the trials and tribulations of creating a book. I liked Darcy because of her journey. She started out as extremely naive and unsure of just about everything, but eager to embark on this new adventure. Along the way, she matured and learned to trust in those she loves and how to make more informed, responsible desicions. I loved her relationship with Imogen Gray. Westerfeld captures the feeling of first love well, the magic and also the insecurity. It's also nice to see an LGBT romance when so many teen books act like they don't exist at all.
The story within a story was awesome and I couldn't get enough of it. The first chapter just hit me like a freight train and I couldn't put it down after that. Lizzie experienced a very traumatic event and on top of processing that, she has to figure out her new powers as a psychopomp. The character are less interesting than Darcy's story, but the concepts and themes are more complex. Ghosts survive on people's memories of them and they disappear when those people are gone. Their personalities and memories are also affected when someone dies who remembers a part of them that no one else remembers. It calls into question if ghosts are really people and never really resolves it. Lizzie has a whole slew of abilities including traveling on a river made of shreds of ghosts/memories, visiting buildings that are long gone, travelling through walls, and of course, talking to ghosts. The story had some seriously creeptastic moments, which I loved! This story also had the most problems. The death cult that orchestrated the terrorist attack is a big blank and isn't explored at all. The characters are less detailed. My biggest problem was when Lizzie commits a horrific crime and only feels remotely bad because her death god boyfriend doesn't want to spend time with her anymore. Darcy's narrative informs this book as the characters in that story discuss edits and decisions made about the plot, characters, etc, which is a cool added level.
Both stories are compelling in their own way, but Darcy's story feels more complete and well written. I think everyone could find something they like whether it's paranormal romance, contemporary fiction, cool mythologies, insight into the publishing industry, dark angsty stories, or more realistic stories. Scott Westerfeld is one of my favorite authors and Afterworlds doesn't disappoint. I'm not sure if there will be a sequel, but I will be all over it if there is.
My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins