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Scott Westerfeld’s AFTERWORLDS is really two stories in one. The first, starring Darcy Patel, is the fun tale of a young girl taking on the publishing world of New York City after receiving a lucrative two-book deal for her debut novel, AFTERWORLDS. The second story, told in alternating chapters, is Darcy’s novel about a girl who travels to the afterworld to escape a terrorist attack, but finds that her visit has changed her life in more ways than one. As Darcy explores the city and struggles to write a sequel, we are given access to her manuscript, one chapter at a time.
I have to start by saying that I loved this book. I was initially intimidated by its size (600 pages!) when I received it, but the value of getting to read two stories at once made it more than worth it. When the novel starts, we meet Darcy Patel as she is preparing to leave for New York City. Following the discovery that her mother’s best friend was murdered as a child, Darcy penned a 60,000 word novel in only 30 days. Now she is a signed author and has decided to skip college to work on her sequel, with her little sister, Nisha, helping her manage her finances. Next we meet Darcy’s protagonist, Lizzie, as she is waiting to board a plane home from visiting her father. Lizzie’s first chapter is written flawlessly, full of suspense and real terror as Lizzie barely survives a terrorist attack by drifting into the afterworld although she is not dead. It is here that she meets Yamaraj, a handsome death god who helps her deal with her new abilities.
Little details…made me feel as though I knew Darcy in real life and was peeking over her shoulder and reading her manuscript as she wrote it.
From here, we follow each girl as she adapts to her new world --- Darcy immersing herself in the publishing scene and Lizzie dealing with seeing ghosts even when she is firmly situated in reality. Darcy meets another young writer, Imogen, and the two begin a relationship. What follows are all the typical butterflies and missteps one would expect from a first relationship, though theirs is perhaps more interesting because they are both writers. And, of course, there are no parents involved. While the two go on ramen dates and engage in some seriously cute hand-holding, they must also deal with writing their books and meeting with editors, publicists and fellow authors. Lizzie, meanwhile, has even more on her plate: she is now seeing (and befriending) the ghost of her mother’s best friend, Mindy, murdered as a little girl. As Lizzie grows closer to Mindy, she learns that the world is not always black and white and that certain actions on earth can dramatically affect even the dead. All the while she meets with Yamaraj in the afterworld and begins to fall for the hunky, enigmatic death god. But when Lizzie attempts to correct a disturbing wrong, the ramifications challenge her relationships with Yamaraj, Mindy and herself. Before either story ends, both girls will deal with heartache, complicated choices and great personal growth.
The best part of this book was seeing the ways Darcy’s life influenced her writing. When she hears a fellow author use the word “bungalow,” for instance, it turns up in the next chapter of her book, AFTERWORLDS. Little details such as these made me feel as though I knew Darcy in real life and was peeking over her shoulder and reading her manuscript as she wrote it. At the same time, I liked living vicariously through Darcy as she explored New York City, publishing and dating --- and ramen noodles. I have to admit, when I began reading I often found myself hungrily waiting for the next chapter of Lizzie’s life, but by the end I was equally interested in both narratives. Still, I found Darcy’s nearly-perfect life a bit unbelievable. Even when she experiences pitfalls --- like struggling to write her sequel or fighting with her girlfriend --- everything seems to work out a bit too neatly. Lizzie’s story, on the other hand, grabbed me right from the beginning and never let go. Scary at times, disturbing at others, and downright exciting throughout it all, Lizzie’s story was the highlight of AFTERWORLDS. I would love to see Westerfeld actually write Darcy’s novel in a more fleshed out way, perhaps --- like Darcy --- in two books.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 23, 2014

by Scott Westerfeld

  • Publication Date: September 23, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction, Paranormal
  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse
  • ISBN-10: 1481422340
  • ISBN-13: 9781481422345