Darcy Patel has put college on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. With a contract in hand, she arrives in New York City with no apartment, no friends, and all the wrong clothes. But lucky for Darcy, she’s taken under the wings of other seasoned and fledgling writers who help her navigate the city and the world of writing and publishing. Over the course of a year, Darcy finishes her book, faces critique, and falls in love.
Woven into Darcy’s personal story is her novel, Afterworlds, a suspenseful thriller about a teen who slips into the “Afterworld” to survive a terrorist attack. The Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead, and where many unsolved—and terrifying—stories need to be reconciled. Like Darcy, Lizzie too falls in love... until a new threat resurfaces, and her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she cares about most.
As someone somewhen almost certainly said, the story is the thing... and it is, isn't it? Most readers read in order to know what happens next—to these characters or that narrative—rather than out of interest in much of anything outwith a given fiction; assuredly not the particular process of authors, though after Afterworlds, I've begun to wonder whether we mightn't be missing a trick.
A twofold story about storytelling, Scott Westerfeld's insightful new novel alternates between a pair of coming of age tales. In one, we meet Lizzie: a typical teenager, to begin with, who's too busy texting to notice the start of a terrorist attack:
I'd never heard an automatic weapon in real life before. It was somehow too loud for my ears to register, not so much a sound as the air ripping around me, a shudder I could feel in my bones and in the liquid of my eyes. I looked up from my phone and stared.
The gunmen didn't look human. They wore horror movie masks, and smoke flowed around them as they swung their aim across the crowd. [...] I didn't hear the screams until the terrorists paused to reload. (pp.5-6)Luckily, Lizzie comes to her senses eventually. As quietly as she can, she calls 911 as the bullets fly by. The operator on the other end of the telephone tells Lizzie her best bet is to play dead, and in lieu of a safer location, she does exactly that.
A touch too well, in truth, because she faints, and awakens in another world. There, in the land of the no longer living—a grayscale place where "the air [tastes] flat and metallic" (p.20)—she promptly falls for a foxy psychopomp:
These terrorists had tried to kill me but I'd gone to the land of the dead and now could see ghosts and apparently had acquired dangerous new powers and this boy, this boy had touched my fingertips—and they still tingled. (p.76)In the aftermath of the attack, it beggars belief, a bit, that this boy is Lizzie's priority. Not the loss of so much life. Not her own nearness to nothing. Not even the realisation that she can move between worlds at will. Rather, Yamaraj, "a hot Vedic death god" (p.77) "modeled [...] on a Bollywood star" (p.121) by his faithless creator, debutant Darcy Patel.