Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

As you all know from my Barnes and Noble Book Haul post a few weeks ago, I had a few books I wanted to get through during my winter break and Afterworlds was at the top of the stack. If you read that post you also know that I was both very excited and a bit skeptical about this book because of its atypical formatting. 

Afterworlds tells two stories in alternating chapters. The first is that of Darcy Patel, a recent high school graduate whose NaNo Novel has been picked up for publication and who has moved her life to New York City to join the publishing world. The second is Darcy's novel, Afterworlds, which follows Lizzie Scofield, who accidentally enters the Afterworld during a terrorist attack at the airport, meets the mysterious Yamaraj, and quickly after returning to her own world discovers her life will never be the same.

You can understand why I would be a bit hesitant. Experimental novels fall into only 2 categories: brilliant or awful. I loved the concept and knew it had the potential to make an amazing book, but it could just as easily crash and burn if not executed well. Fortunately, Westerfeld had no such issues. The 2 stories are masterfully woven together and, in my opinion at least, neither story overshadowed the other. I was just as engaged and eager to know what would happen to Darcy next as I was to find out what happened next in her novel. For me, Afterworlds is an excellent example of experimental writing working just brilliantly.

I will say that for the first half of the novel I could not figure out why he chose to write the book this way. It was interesting, sure, but what was the point? He did not decide to weave these stories together just for kicks. I became even more confused, and slightly frustrated, when Darcy started talking about parts of her novel that I had yet to get to. What was the point in having me read her book when she keeps spoiling parts of it? Where was the suspense supposed to be coming from? I just couldn't figure it out.

And then I did. And it is brilliant. I'll be honest, I don't know if everyone will find it as brilliant as I did or if it is an English major nerd thing or what, but the second I worked out what Westerfeld was up to I just had to finish the book. And I did. That night.

(As a side note, if you're not following me on Twitter you really should be. Otherwise you're missing like 80% of my charming sass. Fulfill your daily snark quota by following today!)

I don't think what I realized was supposed to be a big deal, it certainly wasn't a plot twist or anything of the sort, and to be honest I'm a little embarrassed it took me so long to work it out, but still I thought it was freaking awesome. I'm not sure it is something other people would have even thought about, let alone thought it was as cool as I did, but for me it was really what pulled the 2 stories together into a single novel. I don't want to say what it was because I know a lot of people will not have read the book yet, but if anyone's curious I'd be happy to tell you in the comments.

In addition to be an all around engaging read, Afterworlds also offers diversity in terms of representation, which is something I am always ecstatic to stumble upon especially in YA fiction. I was so happy with how everything was handled and how natural it was made to be in the novel. I'm being intentionally vague here, sorry, but I don't want to ruin anything. But seriously, A+ on representation.

I also loved the kinds of conversations the writers had with each other about their books. Many of them sounded just like conversations my writerly friends and I have had. And they really brought the issues of representation in publishing to the forefront of the novel at times, which I thought was awesome as it is something that is so, so important for us to pay attention to. I hope that conversations like the ones Darcy has with the other writers she meets are common among real authors.

I could go on for days about all the reasons you should read this book, but it would be much faster for you to just pick up a copy for yourself. It is a bit long, and by that I mean I could probably have survived the terrorist attack in the beginning of Darcy's book by using it as a shield, but I mean it is essentially 2 books for the price of one, and I assure you it is worth every page.

Have any of you read Afterworlds? If so, did you have the same type of "ah ha!" moment I did while reading it? Did you enjoy it or no? If you haven't read it, are you planning to? Let me know!

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