I posted a few days ago about the #WeAreHuman readathon that Riveted Lit is sponsoring for the next week or so. All eight of the full books that they have available for free feature LGBT relationships, and it just so happens that Afterworlds was on my to-read list already, so it was obviously the first of those eight books that I picked.
I read Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy when I was in school, and Extras a few years later, after I got my kindle. They remain an enduring favourite of mine, not only because they’re an example of a dystopian trilogy that really got everything right, but also because I thoroughly enjoyed Westerfeld’s style of writing and felt like I was in that world with the characters. So Afterworlds (together with Leviathan) has been on my to-read list for a long time, although I hadn’t managed to get around to reading it.
Surprisingly, though, I was really very disappointed in Afterworlds. Touted as a masterful story-within-a-story, alternating chapters tell the tale of Darcy, a debut YA author, and the book she’s publishing. While there was lots to admire in both halves of the book, with snark and humour, as well as meta commentary and self-deprecation of the YA publishing world in Darcy’s story and a sweeping romantic fantasy in Lizzie’s story, I really felt that the two entirely failed to mesh, and both stories would have been better told separately.
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 problem with Afterworlds was that neither story really felt like it was given enough time to flourish. Both the story of fledgling author Darcy, her sister debs, and her discovery of the beauty of a relationship with fellow author Imogen, as well as Lizzie’s forays into the darkness of the Afterworld and the horror of what she experienced to get her there, had so much potential, and I could have really loved either of them. My problem, however, was that I was switching between the two of them so frequently that I utterly failed to connect with either of them.
The story-within-a-story, of the Afterworld and Lizzie, felt much like any other teen fantasy romance, and wasn’t fleshed out enough to allow, I felt, any kind of resonance.
Then the main story, Darcy and her forays into adulthood and publishing, felt false, like it was only there so that Westerfeld could poke fun at himself and his compatriots, and discuss the difficulty of the publishing world.
Either of those could have been really great books, but I really felt like mashing them together was severely limiting the potential of both.
Besides, given the praised heaped (internally) on Darcy’s book is essentially Westerfeld praising his own writing in the alternating chapters, this book felt a little like a self-congratulatory pat on the back, that Westerfeld could poke fun at himself, but also cheer on the style and skill (and the juice) of his own writing.
This was by no means a bad book, both stories were interesting and I wasn’t struggling to read it (beyond general slumpiness) but I really felt like it had a lot more potential than it was allowed to show.
Sadly, only two stars.