I'd like to try something different on my blog today; a book review!
This last year I’ve become completely addicted to Booktube. If you haven’t heard of Booktube, it’s a community of vloggers on Youtube that discuss all things about books. It’s a fantastic way to find book recommendations and you can often hear about upcoming books as many Booktubers get their hands on advanced reader copies (ARCs - I learnt this term from Booktube!). I first heard about Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld from Kat from Katytastic. As soon as I heard that it was a novel about writing I knew I wanted to read it as soon as it came out.
Afterworlds is about seventeen-year-old Darcy Patel who writes a novel in the thirty days of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month - which is happening right now) and is lucky enough to get a publishing deal. This book is two stories in one. It follows Darcy as she prepares for publication, while in alternate chapters we get to read the paranormal romance that she has written. Darcy moves to New York and becomes involved in the Young Adult (or YA) book community.
Darcy’s novel, which forms that other half of the Afterworlds, is about a young girl named Lizzie who discovers that she can crossover to the afterlife when she is caught in a terrorist attack. Lizzie meets a boy, an ancient reaper (called a psychopomp), they form a connection, and Lizzie begins learning about her new abilities and her relationship with the afterworld.
Of the two stories I definitely preferred Darcy’s. Lizzie’s story is engaging and intriguing, but there wasn’t enough of it for me to become fully invested in the world. The book's biggest strength is the connection between the two narratives. In the contemporary chapters of Afterworlds we watch Darcy struggle as she makes decisions about her story and her characters, then we get to read how she resolves them in the following chapters. There are also many instances where aspects from Darcy’s life, like her sister’s expressions or her editor’s recommendations, find their way into her story. The banter between Darcy and the other authors she meets are some of the most engaging parts of the book for me. Scott Westerfeld has said (in this podcast) that some of the characters are based on his real life author friends; one of them is strongly reminiscent of John Green, author of A Fault in Our Stars and well-known Youtuber. I found that the alternating points of view between the two different stories gave the book a great pace – I flew through it in a couple of days and it isn’t a short book.
When I first heard about this book I was expecting to see Darcy’s story develop as a narrative over time, however the Afterworlds in the book is clearly the completed, published version of Darcy’s story. In reading it I had to remind myself a few times that Darcy's story is actually written by Scott Westerfeld, a successful and experienced YA author. Darcy’s experience isn't a typical publishing experience either; it’s unlikely that many people could write a first draft during Nanowrimo that would attract the attention of an agent and result in a $300,000, two book contract. If I sound a little jealous, it’s because I am :P That said, the book also explores the effort and time taken to rewrite a manuscript and get it ready for publication. Things aren't a walk in the park for Darcy by any means.
Afterworlds definitely has a few insights into the process of writing YA, but it is not a book about how to write. It is a book about writers and writing, coming of age and self-discovery. I enjoyed reading this immensely and would recommended it to anyone who is a fan of reading YA books. The story is gripping, well-paced and the characters were believable enough that I wanted to google them to see how their careers were doing. This book is highly, highly recommended.
One a sidenote, the book trailers for Afterworlds are worth watching (I didn’t know book trailers were a thing until this year!). The standard one gives a nice overall impression of what the book is like (although you might get the impression that there are zombies in this book from the trailer. There are no zombies). The other trailer shows various YA authors "attacking" the book for misrepresenting the YA community. It's hilarious and features loads of well-known authors, including John Green. Definitely worth a look if you’re interested!