Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

I’m writing this review about a day after I finished the last chapters of Afterworlds and to be honest I’m still not sure whether or not I liked it. I’m very rarely this indecisive, but something about Afterworlds has me on the fence.

For a little background, here’s the Goodreads summary:

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.

In the end I think maybe I’m unsure because this book felt like two different books stuck together. There were parts of Darcy’s story that I liked and parts of Lizzie’s, but I don’t think that I ever felt like they truly worked together. While Darcy may have been writing Lizzie’s story, there was very little connection in the overall plots and no reflection of one in the other; they were quite distinct. And there were many times when I dreaded the end of the chapter because I knew it would cause the story to switch perspectives. I followed Darcy closely at times and Lizzie during others and I didn’t like leaving either girl once I’d gotten comfortable with their point of view.

If I evaluate each story individually, however, I have a few more comments.

*SPOILERS TO FOLLOW*

Lizzie’s story (the Afterworlds book within Afterworlds) was pretty naive. It truly felt like reading Darcy’s first novel, but not like reading a good one. Darcy even brings it up herself at one point. Realizing how cookie-cutter her characters are and how much more detail she could have added were additional blunders in her publishing nightmare. The only thing that really came full circle was the plot and that’s because Darcy worked so hard to create the perfect ending. Also, since much of Lizzie’s story focuses on her take down of the Bad Man, I desperately wanted to know how Mindy and the other girls had died. Instead Darcy/Lizzie only vaguely describes their deaths with judgmental language like “bad” or “terrible” and forces us to take her word for it. I think I would have understood the Bad Man more if I’d known more details about his crimes. Instead he kind of came off as this pathetic old man who Lizzie smothered in his sleep, which was definitely not the affect that Darcy or Scott Westerfeld were going for.

I also thought that the illusions to publishing culture in Darcy’s half of the story were a little uninspiring for a Scott Westerfeld book. So Darcy wrote the whole novel in November? Then she participated in NaNaWriMo. Anyone who’s even remotely interested in the internet or books knows what that is, so why not just come out and say it? Though maybe directness is just my preference. However, I did genuinely like Darcy as a character. I liked getting the little glimpses of her Indian upbringing, liked how she was so determined to become a novelist, and enjoyed all her little “I can’t believe this is actually happening” moments because I know that that’s how I would have felt in her shoes. I also thought that the relationship between Darcy and Imogen was different than the usual YA fair. Same sex couples are still uncommon in popular YA literature, much less one with an age gap, and I liked seeing how their writing affected their relationship. It was quite a mature problem for an 18 year old character to have, but one that many creative people actually experience in real life.

In the end though I’m only giving this book a three star rating. It was not nearly on par with the other Scott Westerfeld books that I’ve read and I was disappointed by what initially sounded like a really promising plot. It just never fully lived up to its potential, let alone its hype. That said, five stars on the cover design. It was absolutely beautiful.

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