Afterworlds - Scott Westerfeld

So basically, Scott Westerfeld decided to trick me. He made me read two novels at the same time! Which is difficult not to do, since Afterworlds is essentially a two-for-one special. 
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The most important email that Darcy Patel every wrote was three paragraphs long. . . .
This email was not a perfect query letter. But it did its job. Seventeen days after pressing Send, Darcy was signed to Underbridge, a flourishing and respected literary agency, and not long after that she had a two-book deal for an astonishing amount of money.
Afterworlds (the novel): Darcy is a young author who managed to score a massive advance from the fictional "Paradox Publishing."She moves to New York to start her career as a writer, blowing off college, and trying to figure out how to navigate the world of publishing, and the complexities of first love. 

It's called the flipside . . . . It's where the dead walk, and I'm going to tell you how it works, and about the underworld, and shines, and ghosts. From now on . . . I'm going to tell you everything.
Afterworlds (the novel within the novel): Afterworlds is the name of the novel that Darcy is writing. It follows Lizzie Scofield, who has managed to survive an airport shooting perpetrated by a death cult. In the process, Lizzie calls 911 and the woman on the other end tells her to play dead in an effort to save herself. When she does, however, she ends up going beyond reality into the flipside where she communicates with a lord of death and tries to avenge the death of a young girl whose ghost follows her around in the real world ever since the terrorist attack.
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Westerfeld's novel is intense, nuanced, and complex in so many wonderful ways. He covers a lot of ground between the layered narratives, including issues of first love, the lives of writers, cultural appropriation, queerness, death, ghosts and past regrets, responsibility and growing up, and the perils of early stardom. There's a lot more going on, but you can see it's positively brimming with fascinating themes, characters, and ideas, all wrapped up in a meta-narrative that will have you reading until your eyes hurt.

Darcy is a wonderfully realized character, brimming with hope and excitement at the prospect of publishing, even though she soon learns it's not all fun and games, but is instead mostly filled with deadlines, anxiety, and a LOT of waiting. As she interacts with other authors in the first layer of the novel, she learns about cultural appropriation (some of her characters are taken from various cultural traditions of which she is not a part): Kiralee shrugged. "As a whitefella who plunders indigenous mythos, I've had my share of squabble, all of it richly deserved."

She also slowly but surely familiarizes herself with the "rules" of publishing. First, "Death gods are the new selkies," the Angelina Jolie Paradox (don't worry, you'll understand eventually!), and that book awards are more awesome that knighthoods, "because [a knighthood] can be revoked for treason or other serious crimes. But even if you become a serial killer, they still don't take those Printz stickers away."

The treatment of Darcy's relationship with Imogen Gray throughout the book is sensitive and balanced, never falling into cliche romance territory, but rather evoking ALL THE FEELINGS! The same can be said for Lizzie's relationship with Yama in the secondary novel. The novel-within-a-novel concept will give young readers a very thorough idea of the world of publishing and becoming a writer. Though it is possible that readers will find one of the stories more enjoyable than the other, I feel that Westerfeld has done a marvellous job of making such a large novel both enjoyable and engaging.

If you are a YA fan (and are interested in the process of publishing YA), then this is the book for you: sinister and complex at its core, but also hopeful and absorbing. 

Recommended

(Note: This review is from and Advanced Reading Copy - Out September 23, 2014)

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