Author: Scott Westerfeld
Number of Pages: 599 (Paperback)
Published: September 25th 2014 by Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Paranormal
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. – from Goodreads
I really enjoyed Afterworlds.
It is a book with two main narratives, both compelling in varying ways.
Darcy Patel is the young writer of Afterworlds, a novel she managed to write in 30 days, which has been accepted for publication. This catapults her into a totally new life, moving away from home for the first time to New York. It’s a fascinating journey as Darcy learns about living independently (with some back-home support from her younger sister Nisha, who has established Darcy’s budget and sends her far-too-regular reminders about the number of days left until publication), romantic relationships and sexuality, and the ups and downs and highs and lows of the world of the published author.
I found this perspective really interesting as an insight into the work that actually goes into writing a book and achieving publication, from that first draft, working through rewrites (and the input from various interested parties along the way about how the book should progress and end), to book tours and parties – it was all fascinating. Call it naïve of me but I never considered that publishers would have such input, such as suggesting the book should end a certain way. This becomes a matter of stress for Darcy as both Afterworlds and her own story progress. Is the often-requested happy ending really the best ending for Afterworlds?
I loved the way these questions in Darcy’s narrative aligned with the relevant portion of the Afterworlds story, because it increased the intrigue and anticipation about which direction Darcy had opted to take her protagonists in and provided an insight into her thought processes and experiences as she was writing particular upcoming chapters.
Lizzie is the main character in Afterworlds, and the second narrative is the story that Darcy wrote during those 30 days.
After escaping a terrorist attack by ‘playing dead’ and leaving the real world behind Lizzie realises she is a psychopomp, someone who can pass from the real world into the Afterworld, and she can see and communicate with spirits. She meets the handsome, charismatic Yamaraj, a spirit guide, who has been able to master this existence since following his own sister into the afterworld. He eventually helps Lizzie come to terms with her new skills, despite warning her she should really go back home and forget all about such things, and live her everyday life.
Lizzie’s initially unsettling new talent reveals a hidden secret – the murder of her mother’s childhood best friend, Mindy, a ghost who never truly went away. As Lizzie masters her new gifts she is drawn into a quest for revenge for this murder, to help Mindy find peace. This part of the story becomes suitably creepy at times, as Lizzie begins to realise that not all those who dwell in the Afterworld are as benevolent as Yamaraj.
Both narratives are compelling and interesting. There is a lot going on, and both stories drew me in so much I almost hated each chapter concluding as the point of view would switch at a critical moment and I didn’t want to wait to know what happened next. I loved the contrast of the everyday reality of Darcy’s life and the fantastical elements of Lizzie’s world.
Each story offers up some great characters, such as Darcy’s love interest, Imogen, another writer who is hiding behind a pen name in her real life as well as in her written works, which concerns Darcy and leaves her feeling at times that she doesn’t really know this person with whom she has become so close.
Darcy’s younger sister Nisha is a nice character too. Whilst younger in years she acts as Darcy’s advisor, working out her budget for living expenses (which Darcy can never seem to stick to!).
In the Afterworld section Mr. Hamlyn, another who can walk in the Afterworld but uses his skills for less honourable ends than Yamaraj is nicely sinister as he takes an interest in Lizzie, tempting her with the offer to teach her the darker side of life in the Afterworld, which becomes an issue as Lizzie seeks revenge for Mindy’s murder. Lizzie’s actions with regard to Hamlyn eventually have serious consequences for those she would never have sought to hurt, and this drives the novel towards an exciting conclusion.
I enjoyed Afterworlds so much that I would love to read another dual story tale of Lizzie and Darcy, to find out what happened next, although the story works really well as a standalone too.