Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review: Afterworlds.

Despite enjoying Westerfeld's previous works, and the fact that he was giving a talk/book signing at the bookstore only a mile away from my house, I wasn't planning on reading this book at first (or going to the signing since I already saw him give one a few years ago). But the end of the year rolled around and I wanted to read a few more books that had come out in 2014 and, well, it wasn't going to be the worst thing I had read all year and honestly the promise that something will probably be good is enough to get me reading a story anytime (just look at my recent track record with manga reviews over on OASG, oy vey).

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Darcy, like so many other people, wrote a book during NaNoWriMo. Unlike many other people, she wrote nearly 100,000 words while juggling her senior year of high school and got a book deal for it. So she's now deferred on college, moved to NYC (since she of course can't just live at home and write the sequel the way she wrote this book) and she, along with her main character Lizzie told in alternating chapters, is going to have a life that is interesting in ways she wouldn't expect.

While I ended up enjoying the book, my initial reaction to it (that this wasn't the story for me) proved correct. It's a fantasy written for high schoolers who dream of being published someday and are eagerly looking forward to (or so they think anyway) to both the highlights and lows of that life. I actually didn't have a problem with the author-related part of Darcy's life, I can easily imagine that there are casual get togethers with authors very plainly talking about their ideas and the scenes from the signing tour were my favorite of the whole book. It was Darcy's personal life which rubbed me the wrong way, while Westerfeld nails the essence of young adulthood (you have all this freedom but man you have to spend it on boring stuff like buying mops) it seemed like he glorified her failures and accidentally sent a weird message while doing so.

Darcy is less put together than I was at her age, yes I may have been in a college instead but I never had as much trouble setting a food budget for myself and sticking to it (I say that as a person who loves food and has a hard time not splurging on it, also as someone who lives in another expensive city I was hugely jealous that her budget for a day's worth of living expenses, $33, is equivalent to an entire week's food budget for me). Afterworlds seems to say that oh you're going to make mistakes and that's okay, they won't be bad enough to merit long-term consequences, at least in some areas such as Darcy's living situation. And these situations don't seem to force Darcy into the kind of character growth that she desperately needs to go through. She's a young adult, that means that there's a lot she doesn't know and one of those things is communication. She's closed-off and surprisingly distrustful for someone coming from a happy, stable life and those traits do bring her some trouble, both the most realistic drama of the book and the kind that made me pull more than a few grumpy faces. 

On the one hand I empathized, I was much more estranged from my family when I was her age, but on the other the story never provided her with the external person saying "suck it up, deal with the fact that your girlfriend has a history" and that's the most dangerous part of this story. Darcy doesn't have a real support network, again she's bad at communicating with her good friends and family, and I'm afraid that the book has accidentally sent the message that you have to be on your own and independent! when you leave home and that you won't need help. That's completely untrue for one thing and as for another, I have so many friends who never did reconcile with their families and are missing that part so it hurts to see someone willfully ignore it. I don't want a 16 year old to read this book and think that they too can live a happy adult life on their own and the book does suggest that a bit.

But that's not the only story in this book, every other chapter is a chapter from Darcy's actual novel, "Afterworlds", and I can't even begin to think of the headaches this must have made for Westerfeld's editor trying to make sure that the pacing would allow for this and to make sure that the details from Darcy's life were present in Lizzie's. I was a bit hesitant at first reading this section, paranormal romance is not my thing and since this was a book that Darcy had written in a mad NaNoWriMo rush, was this supposed to be intentionally bad and a mockery of paranormals? But then I started noticing a few details in there that had clearly come from Darcy's conversations and relaxed, this is supposed to be the final draft of the book and it's a fun story in it's own right. The introduction actually reminded me a lot of Malinda Lo's Adaption but the story soon goes in a fairly different direction (as noted by character's in Darcy's side of the story, seeing the in-character critiques was also amusing), from thriller to romance. It doesn't fully forget it's action-movie like start still has quite a bit of tension but, despite Lizzie's character arc, I find that I just have less to say about her life than I do about Darcy's. Again as expected, this story also wasn't my cup of tea but it was a satisfying read and I do think that the ending nailed it, all of "Darcy's" revisions were well worth it.

I do recommend this book despite my criticisms, it is a fun read and a take on young adulthood that's closer to my own than nearly any other story I've ever read. I just hope people realized that there are some accidental messages in there that should be viewed carefully, and if they enjoy the "Afterworlds" part they really should check out Adaption as well.

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