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Saturday, January 03, 2015

Review: Afterworlds

Afterworlds is Scott Westerfield's Young Adult novel about writing. It's an ambitious work.

The book's structured between alternating chapters, winding together two separate stories. One is about Darcy Patel, a 17-year old who won the novel jackpot: a $200,000 advance for a two-book contract with a major New York Publishing house. Flush with success, she cooks up a scheme to avoid going to college, move to New York, and become a full-time novelist. This story-within-a-story is a coming of age story, well-described and imagined, but perhaps full of Scott Westerfield tropes, in which at least 50% of all couples are gay.

The other novel-within-a-novel is Patel's debut novel, a paranormal romance about a girl who learns that there is an afterlife, and that she's one of the select few who can move between the worlds of the dead and the worlds of the living.

A lesser writer would have made the two novels tie together explicitly, but Westerfield's too crafty to resort to a cheap trick like that. What he does show is the writing process, where Patel's real-world relationships, feedback from readers and editors and changes in her life, affect the outcome of her novel. The real-world sections balance out the paranormal romance, grounding it and making it less shallow, which it would have been by itself.

As a self-published writer, I've always wondered why people fall over themselves to give away 80% of their income to New York Publishing companies. This book goes a long way towards explaining that: it's a high flying life, with book tours, adoring fans, all creating a show-biz like atmosphere, a narcotic at any age.

In any case, this was a long read, but a fun one, and while neither novel would have worked separately, together, the two provide a coming of age story and a complete package that works.


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