Book Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

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Title: Afterworlds
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Hardcover: 608 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse (September 23, 2014)
Language: English
Age range: 14 – 17 Years
ISBN-10: 1481422340
ISBN-13: 978-1481422345

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

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.

I’ve done a lot of agent research over the past few months. Actually, I’ve been doing it far longer than that, but I’ve been pretty intense and in-depth of late. Agency websites have been perused page-by-page, names Googled, Twitter and Facebook scoured, blog posts and interviews read (and sometimes even the comments!) Suffice it to say, if a YA agent has said they want to see it in a novel, I’ve heard about it at this point. (Isn’t it interesting that it’s totally acceptable for authors to take on the role of a cyber-stalker while querying agents?)

So when I started reading Afterworlds, I immediately had this mental image of Westerfeld’s agent Jill Grinberg upon hearing about his latest novel: “Oh my God, Westerfeld, I f@#%ing love you!” Actually, I have no idea if Ms. Grinberg is the swearing type. To be honest, I’m not either, but if you’ve done the research I have and you’ve read this book, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

1) Agents everywhere are asking for diversity, diversity, diversity! Westerfeld’s MC, Darcy, is Indian-American (think India, not Native). Her whole family is (of course) and one of her friends and also the LI in the Paranormal portions of the story. Though Westerfeld doesn’t inundate the reader with countless Indian references, he slips them in as they would be in Darcy’s life: just natural. A big deal isn’t made out of the inclusion of holidays or cultural references. They are part of Darcy’s life and therefore they are a part of the book. I loved how he did that.

2) And then there’s more diversity: Agents (and readers) have been asking for more LGBTQ+ characters where their sexual orientation is not the issue of the story. Westerfeld delivers. No one is upset that Darcy starts dating a girl, and Darcy doesn’t have a huge deal telling people. There is a minor inclusion of telling her parents which is a slight hitch, but they are loving and accepting and it is not the core of the story. Westerfeld treated Darcy discovering she is attracted to Imogen as just natural and real. Once again, loved that!

3) Agents and readers alike have been requesting Paranormals and Mythologies that use non-Western history or mythology. The Afterworlds portion of . . . um, Afterworlds, is based on the Hindu religion. So yeah, check another one off the list Westerfeld.

4) I’ve seen countless agents list Paranormals as an absolute no, and even if they did say they’d consider, they were adamant about no vampires, werewolves, selkies, mermaids, witches, wizards, etc. So basically anything that’s been done before. Since I don’t know a single book written about psychopomps (not saying they don’t exist, just haven’t seen any) I think Westerfeld was safe in the Paranormal category. Especially since he alternated each Paranormal chapter with a Contemporary (a genre that is getting a lot of requests these days.) One chapter about Darcy, the writer, new to the world of publishing and her trials and tribulations. Then one chapter about Lizzie, our psychopomp exploring the world of the dead. Then back to Darcy and so on. That’s two checks on this one. Contemporary and original Paranormal. Is this guy even human?

So there you have it: the reasons any agent would have taken on this book, even if Westerfeld wasn’t a huge name in YA to begin with. But what did I think of it?

Well, pretty much I feel if you are attempting to break into the publishing industry, you should read this book. Especially if you write YA. Not only does it give you a glimpse into the world of an agented author who has a book deal, but it is also a well-written YA that you can learn a lot from. It also explores the touchy ground of using an existing religion or mythos for the purpose of a YA novel. Darcy struggles with concerns that she is pilfering her religion “for the purpose of YA hotness.” Thought the issue is never resolved, it is something all authors have to consider when writing about a culture, religion, race, sex, or sexual orientation. What doesn’t seem offensive to one person can be to another and we have a responsibility to consider that. By no means should we avoid controversy and exploring all aspects of life, but we should at least consider all the options and potential opinions.

Usually, I expound on an author’s writing abilities, but I feel that is unnecessary in this case. Westerfeld is irreproachable for his writing skills. And moving on . . .

Both stories were intriguing, though I was drawn to Lizzie and her lord of death more than Darcy’s angst over first love, revising a book, living alone in New York for the first time in her life. That’s just personal choice. I don’t read a lot of Contemporaries, but having said that, I was fully invested in Darcy and Imogen and the rest of the cast very quickly. As far as Contemporaries go, I really liked it.

As for Lizzie and Yamaraj’s story, I was so completely absorbed. The story was new and fresh, not something I had read before, and there was a definite creepy factor I wasn’t expecting. Reading late one night I promised myself to the end of the chapter. I had to go to bed. After all, I have children, and they don’t care how late I stayed up reading. Anyway, the chapter ended with “something” scratching the floor beneath Lizzie’s bed and calling, “Come down and play!” I was so freaked out, and I don’t usually get scared by stuff in books. Of course, I don’t usually read scary books, but hey, this was creepy!

And no, I didn’t read another chapter. I really had to go to bed. But you can bet the next day when I had a free minute I was pulling that book out to find out what happened.

Pretty much I loved this book. I borrowed it from my library, so it may have to be a future purchase. But I didn’t love everything. As a mom, I wasn’t thrilled about the references to underage drinking. No, I’m not some silly prude that thinks teens don’t drink. And I know my nineteen-year-old daughter drinks with her friends. And when I was nineteen, I drank too, but not much. It annoyed me that Darcy drank almost everywhere she went. It’s much harder in Michigan to get a drink as a minor, but maybe New York is different. When Darcy thought about how bad she needed a beer, I was just put-off. I’m not totally upset about it, because I realize it is part of life and Westerfeld didn’t really glorify it, but I wasn’t thrilled about it either.

The other thing I was ambivalent about was the romance between Darcy and Imogen. Actually, not even the romance, but the lead up to it. The scene where they express their feelings for the first time and kiss was beautiful and I adored it, but there wasn’t enough of a lead up for me. One minute she isn’t thinking about Imogen in that way and the next they’re kissing. I guess I just need the feelings to be established a little more. It made it difficult to connect with their love story through out the book. Personal preference, but I like a slow burn that gets me caught up in wanting these two characters together, not a suddenly together and let’s skip all that foundation stuff. It was just too quick for me. On one hand, the story wasn’t about the romance, and that’s okay, but I still needed more.

I’d love to know from some of my LGBTQ+ blogging buddies if they have read the book and how they felt about Darcy and Imogen’s romance. I was worried that I wasn’t connecting because the characters are lesbians, and well, I am not. But I honestly don’t think that’s it, because like I said, I loved that first love scene and I was rooting for their relationship after that, but it kind of snuck up on me. I thought maybe it was going to happen, but questioned whether I was reading too much into the text.

Other than those two minor things, I adored this book. Every minute kept me captivated and I’m interested to know if Westerfeld is going to write a sequel. Though I have read his Uglies series, I haven’t read the rest of his books. He has just entered the ranks of one of my favorite authors, so I guess I’m going to be searching out the remaining books I haven’t devoured yet.

My Review: 4.5 stars

Book Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

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Title: The Dream Thieves
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Series: The Raven Cycle (Book 2)
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 30, 2014)
Age range: 14 years
Language: English
ISBN-10: 054542495X
ISBN-13: 978-0545424950
Age range: 14 years
Amazon Review: 4.5 stars

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take?

Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.

One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.

And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.

Ronan is one of the raven boys – a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface – changing everything in its wake.

I love Stiefvater. I’ve adored everything of hers I’ve read so far. Okay, so that only amounts to three books, but they were three good books. I am simply swept away by her imagery and prose and the deep wells that her characters swim in full of dark secrets, longings and desires.

But after reading The Dream Thieves I am beginning to understand why some readers do not appreciate her style. There were points in the book when I was seriously confused. Did I miss something? Was there a clue or a reference I’d overlooked? Or had I simply forgotten details from The Raven Boys which I read some time ago. It’s highly possible I had forgotten information from the The Raven Boys, but more likely this is just Stiefvater’s style. I remember feeling the same way reading Book 1. Stiefvater states information like the reader already knows it, leaving out all the back story. While it may be slightly frustrating at times, mostly I find it intriguing. She is a master at creating characters who have lived long before they hit the page and they are fully fleshed people with stories you don’t get to hear every detail. She always leaves me wanting more, which is far better than wishing the book had been shorter!

In this novel, we get a much closer look at Ronan. To be honest, I’m not a bad boy kind of girl. I’m not usually attracted to that kind of character. And I detest the character who is perpetually angry and striking out at the world. But Stiefvater managed to entice this grumpy, recalcitrant boy into a character even I wanted to know better. The story line in this book is far more about Ronan than the other characters this time, though they each get a fair portion of play. And I especially enjoyed the scenes with Noah and Blue. They were adorable, poignant and bittersweet.

But Ronan is the focus and we see why he has become this angry bomb always threatening to go off. Plus the story line woven around his character is gripping and mesmerizing and you can’t take your eyes off the potential train wreck, hoping it won’t derail, but wondering how fantastic the fall out would be if it does. And Stiefvater doesn’t disappoint. This was as spectacular as the first book.

We also see a great deal of Adam’s predicament with his sacrifice to Cabeswater, Blue’s troubles with love, knowing she will kill her true love if she kisses him and knowing Gansey will die before the year is out, but I didn’t feel we saw much of Gansey. Since the first had a great deal of him, I guess it’s okay that he was a little absent in this novel, but I hope to see more in the next book.

I don’t like to give away too much, as you can see from my vague review, but I loved this book. It was as magical and entertaining as the first, and I can’t wait to read the third!

My Review: 4/5 stars