ARC Book Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Posted September 22, 2014 by Debby in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from Book Expo America in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

ARC Book Review: Afterworlds by Scott WesterfeldAfterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Published by Simon Pulse on September 23rd, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Ghosts, Paranormal, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 608
Format: ARC
Source: Book Expo America

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.

4 Stars

This book is so meta and so cool. And for its 600 pages, it read immensely smoothly and quickly. There’s no book quite like this one, and I definitely enjoyed it. It’s my first but definitely not my last adventure with Scott Westerfeld.

Now, Afterworlds is essentially two books in one. On the one hand, we have a contemporary story of an author getting ready to publish her first book. And on the other hand, we have the book that she’s written. As such, I feel it’s only right to have this review be in parts as well. There’s just so much to cover.

Lizzie’s Story:

I’m starting with Lizzie’s story – which is the book within the book. Lizzie’s story is Darcy’s debut novel, Afterworlds, and it’s a paranormal romance about a girl who survives a terrorist attack at an airport and then forms a link to the afterworld. Basically, she can see ghosts and is meant to guide them across to the afterlife, while also gaining the ability of astral projection – pretty much. She’s a psychopomp – also known as a soul guide, grim reaper, etc. The concept is super cool – which is why Darcy’s publisher was so eager to pay a debut author such a massive advance. She pulls from Hindu scripture, which makes her world building very creative and unique. Then the plot thickens, as the ghosts put her on the trail of a serial killer, and there’s also the lingering terrorist threat that she escaped from. Talk about intriguing! I couldn’t get through the story fast enough. I did feel like some parts of it were underdeveloped, but it did keep me entertained.

However, there are some bigger shortcomings in Lizzie’s story. Towards the end for sure I realized that I didn’t care at all for the romance. We do read the story in full, so it’s not like I’m missing scenes, but I just didn’t get the connection between her and the psychopomp who saves her at the beginning of the story, Yama. It’s not instalove, because they’re not declaring love for each other, but they definitely do feel things for each other, and I didn’t get why. He’s barely around at all, and I felt like we hardly got to know him, save for the fact that he saved her. I dunno. I just didn’t ship it very much.

I also ended up confused about Lizzie’s character. I mean, I was fully engaged in her story because of the dark, dramatic things she was going through, but towards the end I was conflicted. Did she seem traumatized enough about the terrorist attack? It didn’t feel that way. I mean, one could argue that she’s strong, but it’s more like once it happened she wasn’t affected by it anymore. She let it go pretty easy and was also quick to accept the existence of ghosts and the underworld without any questions. It’s like she’s supposed to be strong and fearless, but it didn’t really come out that way – she just seemed a bit more… bland? At the same time, I feel weird critiquing this, because Darcy gets feedback from her editors that her characters are a bit flat. It is her debut novel, and it comes back time and time again that it won’t be her best, and she’s improving over time. So I do think that on Westerfeld’s part, this could be intentional. How realistic would it be for a debut novelist to get everything right the first time around?

Darcy’s Story:

And that’s a good lead in to Darcy’s story. So Darcy’s chapters tell her journey to publication: from signing with her agent and getting her advance, to moving to New York City and getting a flashy apartment conducive to writing, to meeting fellow authors, to rewrites, to pre-publication tours, to Book Expo America… this was the story that really enchanted me. I mean, I’m in this sphere, I know some authors, I’ve been to BEA. I loved the scenes of drinks with authors where they came up with the most bizarre story ideas, which reminded me of my adventures in New York with Christina, Gillian, and Lenore Appelhans. It was so realistic and relatable – absolutely brilliant. If you are an author or blogger, you’re going to love this stuff.

It’s also just such a poignant image of the struggles of a debut author. It’s the side that we as readers may not even think about. Being pressured to rewrite certain sections you really liked before, feeling insecure about author friends’ opinions of your books, wondering whether that first novel was just a stroke of luck or whether you actually are a writer, whether you’re accidentally plagiarizing ideas you pick up from your surroundings… It was so much to think about. And let me tell you, I do not envy this tough journey for authors. I don’t think I would survive.

It’s also a love story! I was pleasantly surprised by the LGBT element. Darcy falls for Imogen, a fellow author who is just starting out, and they are so sweet together. I loved the completely natural and accepting tone of the book regarding the romance. And the characters in this half of the story were also so much more real. Darcy is not the most likable, I’ll admit, because she’s young, naive, and insecure. She’s not quite sure she deserved her publishing deal (which, face it, was a bit unrealistic, given the quality of the novel which I would, on its own, probably only give 3 oranges at best) and she can’t quite bring herself to trust that the feedback she’s getting from others is completely genuine. At the same time, when she does get a negative comment, she needs to be talked off a ledge. But knowing authors, knowing how much of that job is shrouded in uncertainty, I can completely understand where she’s coming from. And Imogen, as the older, wiser, more experienced one, is a great support system for her.

I also loved Darcy’s family. Particularly Nisha, her little sister. She’s probably my favorite character in the entire book, because she seriously gave me the giggles. She is wise beyond her years, a bit of a smart aleck, but deeply cares about her sister. Her parents also add the Indian culture, which brought a nice addition of diversity. And Darcy’s best friends, Carla and Sagan, are basically the best bookworm friends you could ask for.


It was really cool to see how these two stories intertwined. Darcy’s rewrites give you clues to what’s approaching in Lizzie’s story, and in particular she struggles with getting the ending of the book just right, which definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. I also really liked seeing how events in her real life inspired parts of the book – it was almost like a scavenger hunt for the reader with an eye for detail! It helped that I was engaged in both stories, so I never felt like skipping either plot line. And the pacing is just perfect, because I seriously just devoured this beast of a book.

The mix of the two stories, showing the subtle craftsmanship that goes into these YA novels we devour while facing the pressures of publishers, editors, and sales and trying to stay true to the characters and ideas of your novel, is so unique and wonderful. There’s no book like this. And authors: I’ve gained a new respect for you. *tips hat*

Summing Up:

This book was just so freaking cool. I love seeing more of the publishing side of the YA-sphere, and Darcy’s debut novel was a delight to read as well. Was it the best ever? No, but she’s a debut author. Overall, it’s just realism everywhere. The quirky elements of authors socializing and attending book events just stole my heart. And I absolutely adored Westerfeld’s writing style. Hell, if he can make me breeze through 600 pages so quickly, I can’t wait to check out the rest of his books.

GIF it to me straight!

Recommended To:

YA book bloggers, authors, and aspiring writers for SURE.

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5 responses to “ARC Book Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

  1. I actually posted my review for this today too, but unfortunately, this one didn’t work for me. I didn’t like the paranormal story at all, but I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to. Like you, I think the author intentionally made it bad. It almost had all of the elements that readers complain about: insta-love, flat underdeveloped characters, and lack of world-building. Was it supposed to be good? Because it just wasn’t.

    And then the Darcy story. Although I appreciated learning about the world of publishing, the discussion about books, whether her book had to have a happy ending, etc., the rest of the story was just…meh. I didn’t like Darcy. At all. But I did appreciate what the author was trying to do (at least what I think he was trying to do), but I just didn’t like it. Great review, glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Dude – DUDE! I think this sounds like it is worth the read! It looks like a monster of a book, but the PREMISE is really very enticing! I’ve really never found a good meta book that seems interesting or fresh.

  3. I’ve been putting this one off because well, it’s huge and also because I’ve seen so many mixed reviews of it. D: I’m not too sure any more though. I kind of want to read it but I kind of don’t. I think if I ever see a good deal for it, then I’ll pick it up. 😀