I mentioned in this post (where I attended the Scott Westerfeld signing) that I would try to get a book review up for "Afterworlds" as soon as possible. That was in October. It's now March.
I can only blame my two jobs and a dash of pure laziness - but I finally finished the book and am writing up this review. About damn time. (Warnings for some spoilers, though nothing major.)
|The signed page from the copy I got in October (the day before my birthday).|
I feel like the concept of this novel is pretty brilliant. The odd chapters are from Darcy's point of view and the even numbered chapters are the novel she is writing. Often, when you have a character who is a "writer" you never get to see what they are writing - which sort of slights them as a character, I feel. This way, you really get to see more into Darcy, the character, by seeing her own character. Don't they always say that the fictional character and writing is just an extension of the author? (Side note: does that mean that Lizzie (Darcy's character) is also an extension of Westerfeld, since Darcy is in turn an extension of himself? Like, a grand-extension? Okay. Stopping that "Inception" worthy thought right there).
Throughout the novel the reader sees Darcy, who is a recent high school graduate who got majorly lucky and is getting her first novel published, grow and dip her toes in the adult world. She moves to New York City, since that's where writers live, to work on the second book in her book deal as she edits "Afterworlds" (which, isn't just the title of this book, but Darcy's book). Through that growth and maturation, her novel also grows and matures as Darcy experiences more herself. Westerfeld said something along these lines at the book signing/Q&A I attended: if you look closely enough, you see words and concepts Darcy has learned slip into later chapters of her novel. It's one interesting way to look at the writing process on behalf of Westerfeld. Here you have a group of characters in the "real" world talking about writing - like word choice, researching how to write out a realistic scene, the publishing world, and more - and then on the flip side, you're seeing the fruits of that labor. As a writer, it's infinitely interesting.
The book Darcy's writing is just as interesting as all of the above. It's one of those paranormal romances that you know would be a hit and it's no wonder that Darcy got her book deal. It's the story of Lizzie who, during a terrorist attack, wills herself into the afterworld by pretending to be dead and escape actual death. She ends up being the only survivor of the attack and as an after effect, is able to see ghosts. (Was there a sixth sense reference? Man, I can't remember if there was. Well, if there isn't, you lost your opportunity, Westerfeld.) Not only does she gain this ability, but a love interest in Yamaraj (or, just Yama if you don't want to be too formal), a boy who is just like her and too, willed himself into the afterworld. Now he acts as a sort of grim reaper, or guide, to help spirits be remembered (and has been for centuries).
Let's just say there is an age difference.
Another one of those funny YA romance tropes, if you will.
I liked how much mystery was involved in Lizzie's chapters. There is a murder of the childhood best friend of her mother that she pursues and it gets pretty dark. A lot darker than I was expecting at first but, as Darcy says in her own chapters, it's a book about death; it shouldn't be so surprising.
Probably one of my favorite things, despite some of the reliability to Darcy (like some insecurities she has, the struggle of both trying to be an adult and buy a mop for her apartment and not blow her money on food, and the how difficult writing can be at times) is how kickass her girlfriend is.
The issues with sexuality are pretty low-key in this novel and in fact, aren't really issues at all - not in the traditional after school special kind of way (I'm looking at you Glee - but I still love you). The fact that Darcy is gay isn't so much of a huge revelation or point of conflict for her; she sort of always suspected but had never been in a relationship before moving to New York. Her relationship with Imogen isn't necessarily about that, nor is its source of conflict have to do with being targeted by their sexuality. It's brought up a few times, yes, that Imogen was out in high school and it wasn't all good and that maybe Darcy had it lucky - but it's not dwelled on in the same way. It's just a fact of who they are and they move on and are established as just a normal couple with conflicts that all couples have: miscommunication and untruthfulness on occasion. Later, when Darcy comes out to her family, it's taken like she just told them the weather. Well, maybe a little more than that, but it's not the big deal Darcy feared it would be (though she fears that with her family's background it would be).
I think that Westerfeld should be applauded for this choice. He took a gay character and didn't make their whole plot revolve around that aspect of their character. Darcy, and Imogen, are both more than that. He is a popular writer and could have easily had Darcy fall in love with someone just as handsome and mysterious and male as Yama - as in Lizzie's part of the novel - but that wasn't what he did. It's touched on that Imogen's novel might have failed because of the lesbian character she has in it; well, that could have happened to Westerfeld as well, but it wasn't so much a problem. He created this character that I feel has so much life and believability to her and I'm just in love with that.
This review only really scratches the surface, but this is the take away of some of my big thoughts after reading the novel. One other notable thing was how invested into both worlds you get. I would be reading a Darcy chapter and when it would end I'd be so upset as I started Lizzie's chapter. I didn't want to stop reading Darcy's world. Then I would read Lizzie's and get caught up in the mystery and ghosts and then not want to part from that character when the chapter ended and another Darcy chapter began. That definitely shows the strength of both plots and on a larger picture, Westerfeld's writing ability.
In the end: I definitely recommend going out to buy this bad boy. It's a big book, believe me, but once you really get into it the pages go by so quickly. And while you're at it, go pick up Westerfeld's other works. If you like this, you'll like his other stuff. On the flip side, if you've been a fan of Westerfeld and haven't read this yet - do it!
Let me know if this review was interesting or helpful and if I should do any more. I really need to get to reading more books, even though I have been busy working a lot. Let me know if you have an suggestions (though working at Barnes & Noble, I find way too much stuff I want to read as it is).
Until next time,