27 October 2014

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

I don’t recall where I heard about Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds, but somehow or another I did, and I read it.

It was a much longer book than I was expecting. It shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me. After all, it was billed as two books in one. I didn’t realize that was meant literally.

Afterworlds tells the story of Darcy Patel, a debut YA author about to move to New York to write. She sold her NaNoWriMo novel for a six-figure advance and wants to make a go of writing as a career.

Alternating chapters with Darcy’s story is her...well, story. AFTERWORLDS is the name of Darcy’s novel, a paranormal romance about girl named Lizzie who gains the ability to shift herself into the afterlife, where she becomes a psychopomp, a living guide for the souls of the dead. And encounters Yamaraj, the Hindu death god, here reimagined as a hot 17-year-old fellow psychopomp, "for purposes of YA hotness," which is perhaps the best phrase ever.

At times, I had difficulty getting into Afterworlds. The alternating chapters were frustrating when I was heavily invested in one story or the other - I wanted to keep going and kept getting pulled in the other direction - and yet, that same frustration somehow perfectly captured both characters’ longings. Darcy was desperate to get her edits done, to get her ending perfect, to be successful. Lizzie was equally desperate in AFTERWORLDS: to be with Yamaraj, to figure out just what she was supposed to be, to learn how to control her new powers.

At first, I had a hard time connecting with Lizzie. There was something very uncanny about knowing that Lizzie was a creation of Darcy. I had no problem connecting with Darcy. But that added layer of remove made it a lot harder with Lizzie. As time went by I did get invested. But it took more time. It’s interesting to me that it should be that way. I wonder if others had similar experiences.

Afterworlds did an amazing job showcasing Darcy’s heritage without being in-your-face or over the top. It informed her but didn’t define her. She was aware of being part of it, and yet aware that she was also removed from it, and she wanted to do it justice. Being half-Persian myself, I understand what it is to be drawn to a culture that you're immersed in and yet not really a part of. And the need to honor that culture, especially to others.

I was surprised just how much I liked Afterworlds, when all was said and done. It really hit me in places I wasn’t expecting. And despite my usual avoidance of Paranormal Romance as a genre, I really wanted to know what was going to happen in the sequel to AFTERWORLDS. I wanted to know what was going to happen to Lizzie and Yama. Then I remembered that Darcy was just a character, her novel was a meta-novel, and realized just how thoroughly down the rabbit hole Scott Westerfeld had sucked me.

I didn't think he could pull it off, but he totally did.