Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Afterworlds. I haven’t read a book by Scott Westerfeld that I didn’t like, and his latest does not disappoint. I chose this week to highlight Afterworlds because in addition to being a great novel, it mentions NaNoWriMo quite a bit. Hopefully it’ll inspire all of you out there who are doing NaNoWriMo! (And as a bonus, if you’re worried about reading cutting into your writing time, Afterworlds is also a fantastic audiobook read by Sheetal Sheth and Heather Lind. So you can read while driving to work, making dinner, washing dishes, working out, and plenty of other non-writing activities.)

First, the summary from Goodreads:

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.

Now my own thoughts. This book really spoke to me as a writer who is just starting to immerse herself in the world of publishing (no book deals, but I know all about conferences, and I’ve worked on the librarian side of library visits). Reading about Darcy’s first YA Drinks Night and her dreams of YA Heaven had me thinking, over and over, “these are my people!” It’s so great to read a book that I can really see myself in.

Which brings me to the next awesome part of this book: it fits well with the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Darcy is an Indian-American who comes from a Hindu family. The love interest in her novel is a Hindu death god. And there’s plenty of other diversity in this book, but I don’t want any spoilers. (And even having to describe a book as “diverse” makes me cringe, because I wish books were just books and we didn’t need to classify stories that reflect the real world as anything unique.)

But Westerfeld takes We Need Diverse Books a step further. While discussing her book with another writer, Darcy says that the male love interest is Indian (his appearance based off of a Bollywood actor) but the female protagonist is white because she didn’t want it to be like she was crushing on the actor, but like the world was crushing on him. (I’d give the exact quote, but the downside to audiobooks is there’s no way to go back and look that up. And all our print copies of Afterworlds are checked out right now.) So basically, Darcy is saying an Indian protagonist would be seen as representing her, but a white protagonist can represent any girl. I think this scene proves exactly why we need diverse books — Darcy has grown up in a world where she can’t see non-white characters as representing a large portion of the general population. I don’t know whether Westerfeld intended to do this or not, but I think it makes a brilliant point about the need for diversity in a deftly subtle way.

So, write on, Wrimos, and give Afterworlds a read (or listen)!

Have you read any books that really resonated with you lately? Any great NaNoWriMo books? What about books that address diversity? Please share in the comments!

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