Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse, 2014

Afterworlds is a young adult novel about writing a young adult novel. In fact, it is two novels, as it contains the entire text of the novel that it is about. The actual story is a coming of age romance about writing; the story-within-the-story is a paranormal teenage romance.

Darcy Patel wrote a novel. A publisher liked it, and offered her a ridiculous amount of money for her book and a sequel. So now she is putting off college and moving to New York to focus on editing it and (hopefully) writing the sequel. Her parents aren't happy, but she is 18 and can do what she wants... and also, she is being paid a ridiculous amount of money.

Meanwhile, in another book... Lizzie is almost killed in a terrorist attack, and escapes only by willing herself to play dead so strongly that she pushes herself temporarily into the afterlife. She discovers that now that she has made the transition once she can make it again, through the simple expedient of reliving the terrorist attack. She can also see ghosts, be seen by evil things that live in the Afterworlds, travel on the psychic plane, hunt down a mass murderer, and most especially, date an incarnation of an Indian death god.

The big hook of this novel is that it is one of today's most successful young adult authors writing about writing a young adult novel, along with the whole process of getting published, going on book tours, and then having to do it all again. Scott Westerfeld is known for his science fiction, and this is most certainly not a science fiction novel, but is it well written and engaging. The characters, for the most part, are also interesting and engaging, although that is much more true of the 'real' characters than the characters in the sub-story.

The story within the story is okay -- probably good enough to get published on its own, although not good enough that I would recommend it on its own. It is fairly dark, and not actually a romance so much as a YA urban fantasy with a romantic interest (Darcy actually sees more romance than does Lizzie). The basic plot is sound, but when alternating chapters with a more fleshed-out work it comes across as underdeveloped and somewhat unsatisfying. However, it does work quite well in its intended role, as the center of Darcy's life and a product of a grueling writing process.

Overall, this is a good book(s), and I recommend it to pretty much anyone -- although it helps if you like young adult literature and don't mind some grisly deaths. While it is officially a YA novel, it rests slightly on the 'adult' side of that label, with talk of sex and drinking and murder... you know, grown-up stuff. More important, however, is that you be interested in the process of writing and publishing, which is really the central theme of this book.

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