Audiobook Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

I picked out a stack of audiobooks for a road trip with a fellow librarian, and we just kept striking out. We tried 031398147541 by Melissa de la Cruz and hate the narrator. I’ve heard great things about The Sky is Everywhere, and I loved Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun (my review) but the narrator wasn’t strong and my driving partner isn’t as big of a contemporary fan. Finally, we settled on Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Published: September 23rd 2014 by Simon Pulse
ISBN: 9781481422345
Source: local library
Genre: young adult paranormal, young adult contemporary, LGBTQ, audiobook
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | Indiebound

Synopsis: 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.


My thoughts:

Afterworlds is part love letter, part exposé of the small, idiosyncratic world that is young adult literature. In it we have Darcy’s story of writing a NaNoWriMo novel only to have it get her an agent and a big book deal, but Westerfeld actually shows us Darcy’s flawed story in alternating chapters. The struggles she experiences in the real world are mirrored in her novel, and we see parts of her life work themselves into her story. It was an interesting and unique approach to a young adult novel.

Westerfeld handles diversity with aplomb. Darcy worries about exploiting her culture and religion in her writing. She is of Indian descent, but is not religious and rejects aspects of her culture, like vegetarianism. That her first relationship is with a girl is no more an issue than the fact that she is several years older and more experienced. I would recommend this novel to anyone on this reason alone. In fact, we need more books that deal with all these aspects of identity, and the way that they are interconnected. In fact, at a YALSA lit symposium panel that focused on LGBTQ identities in young adult science fiction, a librarian in the audience voiced an opinion related to this book to the panel; she thought the fact that Darcy was “Asian” and “a lesbian” was “too much.”  What was ironic was that she addressed this to Malinda Lo, who is a lesbian writer of Asian descent. Her response was, “how can this be ‘too much’? I exist.” SO YEAH. We need more books like this.

I found Darcy’s contemporary story much more compelling than her novel about Lizzie the psychopomp. And as it should have been. The premise was exciting and original, and felt very much like something that could have been a big, breakout debut. But it was also deliberately unpolished, and played with the tropes of young adult fiction. (Every time we see the the love interest, there is black silk rippling across his abs, for example). And as interesting as I found Darcy’s attempts at navigating the complicated world of publishing and the small world that is young adult literature, I’m pretty immersed in it, and I’m a writer. I’m not sure if book tours and BEA are as interesting as someone who is only a casual reader.

I will say that I thought the ending of both Darcy’s and Lizzie’s stories to be abrupt, as if the publisher had said “this novel cannot exceed 600 pages). It was rather anticlimatic. Overall, this was a well-written books with a unique premise, but may not find a fan in every reader.

Recommended to: fans of Scott Westerfeld, those who are immersed in the world of young adult literature, young writers

Second opinions:

NPR: “Scott Westerfeld’s new novel, Afterworlds, finds an interesting way to honor these beloved tropes while also coyly subverting them.”

April at Good Books Good Wine: “I really liked Afterworlds for what it was — to me this book was a testament to the creativity and exuberance of youth. I loved looking at YA publishing through Darcy’s unjaded eyes. I loved reading Darcy’s chapters as I read about her life in New York City. I liked reading about the psychopomps and the afterworlds. I liked the serial killer bits in Lizzie’s chapters and the macabre route it takes. I mean, if you read this book, don’t read it for the romances, read it for the conflict, the plot, and the characterization.”

Stormy at BooksBlogBake: “That being said, I love how self-aware Afterworlds was. It was super intriguing to see a bit of the curtain being pulled back and reading about things like Darcy’s editorial letter, a conversation about why a book wasn’t selling well, how Darcy didn’t know what she should be doing on social media, BEA, etc. Sometimes when books are about writers they come off as being self-indulgent, but Afterworlds never felt that way.”

Teen Librarian Toolbox: “It’s an ambitious project, creative in concept and executed superbly. Every teen I have ever seen at an author panel asking all those questions about how do you become a writer will enjoy the insider perspective. “

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