A few years ago (CBR4?) I read Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies and really, really didn’t care for it. But I kind of liked Scott Westerfeld, so I kept up with what he was working on. When I read ModernLove’s review of Afterworlds, I decided that this would be the book where I gave Westerfeld his second chance. The idea sounded so clever and the book was so pretty. I couldn’t say no.
I’m mostly glad about that decision.
Afterworld’s is something different. It’s actually two stories in one. Not two alternating narratives, but two completely different novels tied together as one.
Book one is the story of Darcy Patel, a recent high school graduate who bangs out a novel during NaNoWriMo and sells it to the first publisher she contacts. The novel tells of her struggle to become an adult and a real writer (which she does not consider herself to be). She struggles with money, relationships, deadlines, and being on her own for the first time ever.
Meanwhile, book two is Darcy’s novel. Lizzie Scofield is the sole survivor of a brutal airport terror attack. But her experience with death brings her to the underworld, where she finds out that she’s a psychopomp, i.e., a guide for the newly dead. She can see and talk to ghosts, including the ghost of her mother’s best friend who was murdered when she was 11 and has been living in her closet for all of these years. And of course, she meets the super-hot god of death while she’s on “the flip side”.
Here’s what I really liked about this book.
The book was gorgeous. The Lizzie chapters have a black margin header, and the Darcy pages are white. The pages looked bold and bright and were clearly marking which story was which. (Any kindle readers out there with this book? Is there any special formatting? Just curious.)
Westerfeld’s female voice is actually quite good. Darcy and her sister Nisha talked to each other like real people. Darcy and her girlfriend Gen had real problems that Darcy handled about as well as an 18 year old would. I liked her friends from high school (Carla and Sagan. Ha!). I loved that Darcy couldn’t stick to her budget and that her sister called her by her last name. These details brought the white chapters to life.
I also really enjoyed the fact that this was a pretty honest view of the world of YA publishing in the age of social media. A very supportive, but extremely competitive community, with superstars and failures, and that all it takes to create a bestseller sometimes is one random picture on the internet. I didn’t think Darcy’s huge payout for her first novel was very realistic, but the rest of her year in New York seemed to be pretty accurate. Being a writer isn’t easy and this glimpse made becoming a success look nearly impossible.
I didn’t enjoy the black chapters as much as the white chapters. I wanted more details about a lot of what was going on (but I guess I wasn’t alone, Darcy’s editors wanted more, too). I didn’t feel like I knew very much about any of the characters at the end, other than that Lizzie had special powers and that Yama was really handsome. Mr. Hamlyn was a bad guy, but he had been through a traumatic experience. Lizzie’s mom and friend Jamie were supportive and kind. And Agent Reyes had a terrible job. But what else? The characters were very two-dimensional, which was maybe done on purpose, demonstrating that this was Darcy’s first novel and that she needs to grow as a writer. In that case, it was really well done. I hope that was the case.
I’m glad I read this and gave Westerfeld another shot. I still don’t plan to go back and read any of his dystopian stuff, because I really, really hated Uglies. Like Lauren Oliver, maybe dystopia just isn’t for him. Maybe writing about real people and real situations is where he excels.