STARRED REVIEW
September 23, 2014

Two tales in a city

By Scott Westerfeld
Review by

With a contract for her first YA novel in hand, recent high school graduate Darcy Patel puts college on hold and moves to New York City. But living and writing in the city turn out to involve more than just hobnobbing with the publishing community. She also needs to find (and furnish) an apartment, stick to a budget . . . and navigate her first romantic relationship.

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With a contract for her first YA novel in hand, recent high school graduate Darcy Patel puts college on hold and moves to New York City. But living and writing in the city turn out to involve more than just hobnobbing with the publishing community. She also needs to find (and furnish) an apartment, stick to a budget . . . and navigate her first romantic relationship.

Chapters from Darcy’s point of view alternate with those from her book, Afterworlds, in which a near-death experience propels a girl named Lizzie into an alternate world where ghostlike powers—and a hot teenage death god from Indian mythology—await. As Darcy works through issues like the ethics of appropriating cultural icons, the acceptability of borrowing plot ideas from fellow writers and the choice between college and other paths, these ideas begin to appear in Lizzie’s internal story as well.

Afterworlds is a long book—it’s essentially two books in one—and its target audience is unclear. Darcy’s comments about high school being old news won’t ring true to teens who are still students themselves. Author Scott Westerfeld’s descriptions of life as a YA writer, from lonely hours hacking through edits to the excitement of conferences and school visits, are vivid yet somehow empty, as though these aspects of Darcy’s story function mostly as a vehicle for Westerfeld to tell his own. But it’s precisely this adult perspective that allows Westerfeld to pepper his story with writerly inside jokes, including a pet parrot named after a famous YA lit character and the difficulty of competing for attention with a former child star at a major publishing conference. Ultimately, this self-awareness forms the book’s main strength, as Afterworld inspires readers to rethink their assumptions about the distinctions between characters, readers and writers.

 

Jill Ratzan reviews for School Library Journal and works as a school librarian at a small independent school in New Jersey.

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Afterworlds

Afterworlds

By Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse
ISBN 9781481422345

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