Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publishing Date: September 23rd, 2014
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
I really, really found Afterworlds interesting, though I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I completely adored its wit, cleverness, coming-of-age vibes, and its satiric approach to the YA-publishing world. It is so cheeky, brilliant, and so meta. But on the other, I have my reservations about certain things, like the execution, the ending, and the characters.
When I said it is so meta, I'm not kidding! It's literally a YA book written by a YA author about a YA author writing her YA book, and the YA book she is writing is interluded in between chapters. The book also gives light to a lot of discussions on issues about writing, publishing, reviews, sales, marketing, book tours, and how challenging it is to enter this industry. There's some bit of how you reconcile with your publisher telling you to change your ending so that the book would sell more, and at the same time compromising your artistic license to your work. There's some worrying of how another YA author's protagonist who likes to put stuff on fire is too risky and might not be well-received by audiences. There's some stuff about how much research authors put into their work, with one of the YA authors literally locking herself in the trunk of a car while it's moving just to make her writing more realistic. And it works! There are a lot more stuff you'd learn from reading this book and I was so amazed at how honest it all is.
The issue of cultural appropriation is also made into great discussion, with the protagonist, Darcy, worrying about how one of her characters is based on a Hindu death God. Being Indian and not being religious at all, she worries that she may be exploiting her religion just for the purpose of having a hot YA character. There's some discussion of how Darcy making Yama a Hindu death god erases Hinduism from the world of her book by not acknowledging him as being part of the religion. The same way that Angelina Jolie movies are a parallel world where Angelina Jolie does not exist. I found that point pretty valid and thought it made a lot of sense. And yet, it was also interesting how Darcy herself is of Indian heritage but does not practice the religion and is basically white on the inside. Could this have been done intentionally as a way of mocking other YA novels that feature nonwhite people who are actually pretty white on the inside?
That aside, the characters in the Dary at New York story are fantastic- Imogen the love interest who's quite spunky and just super cool, Nisha, Darcy's sister who is incredibly smart with math and computes all her money and budget, Kiralee and all the other authors, who I feel like are based off real people and everything they say or do in the book are probably inside jokes or references. The only one I didn't like is the protagonist, Darcy, unfortunately. It is pretty annoying but true how everyone in the book tells her how lucky she is to be 17 and land a book deal but I hated how irresponsible she is with what she has, throwing away everything especially with money and college stuff. I know it seems surreal and overwhelming to land a book deal but I hated how Darcy feels like it's necessary to spend all that amount of money on an overpriced apartment just because the lighting and ambiance is good for her writing, and using up all the money on eating expensive Chinese noodles, even if she knows she is under a tight budget. She doesn't even care that maybe there's a slight chance her book flops and she has nowhere to go, having spent all her money, missing her apartment lease, and not securing a college. It was frustrating when she spent almost the whole of the book jumping to ridiculous conclusions, missing deadlines, not writing because she's too busy obsessing over her new girlfriend and just being a whiny brat. And in the end, everything still works out for her despite all her shortcomings, and I found that truly a big insult to writers who actually work hard to get their book published.
And now, going to the Afterworlds part. The Afterworlds part of the book has a strong beginning, and I was rather intrigued with the concept of crossing over and seeing ghosts. However, towards the middle I quickly lost interest reading it and I found the characters forgettable. Lizzie, Yamaraj and Mindy all fleeted in my mind; they weren't particularly engaging and didn't hold my interest very long. The world building felt lacking and lackluster, and I didn't seem to picture it out as distinctly in my head as I had hoped. The Indian mythology is something that I wanted to see more in detail and description, but instead it felt weak and flat. In the end I couldn't find myself looking forward to reading Untitled Patel. I thought the premise held great promise that was only contrived because it is split with the Darcy in New York story. If Scott Westerfeld did this as a standalone, maybe it could've been better developed. I don't really have much to say about this part because honestly, I found it boring and the ending was just underwhelming.
Overall, I enjoyed the Darcy at New York part more than the Afterworlds part, and I found it a curious blend between the two worlds. It was interesting to see the perspective of the author writing a book I'm reading and I felt like it is something non-authors and readers would enjoy. However, I'm not so sure about the overall critique or message the story is trying to say. Is it a parody? Is it a critique of the YA publishing world? The concept is very nice, but the execution could be improved. Is it exceptional? No. But is it worth checking out? Then, yes.