Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld: stories within stories

afterworldsTitle: Afterworlds

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Genre: NA contemporary/YA thriller/paranormal/ALL THE GENRES

Length: 608 pages

Published by: Penguin Teen Australia

Published on: 24th September (today!!)

Source: received for review (thanks so much, Penguin!)


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.


Don’t you love it when your expectations are exceeded?

As every Potterhead knows, “Exceeds Expectations” is right below “Outstanding” on the OWLs. This was both in equal measure. I did not expect to like this book as much as I did, not when a) it was getting quite a few negative reviews and DNF ratings, and b) it was so freaking long.

I’m pretty sure I saw a tl;dr review for it, even (“too long, don’t read” for those who aren’t up with the lingo…not that I am. I had to look it up on Urban Dictionary).

So this was my reaction (dedicated to Mel at YA Midnight Reads):

Basically, people told me it wasn’t good and I ended up really loving it. AND YOU MIGHT TOO.


You might enjoy this book if you are a NaNoWriMo-er, teen writer, aspiring author at any stage or interested in the publishing world.

NaNoWriMo, if you didn’t know, is this CRAZY event where writers all over the world write a book in a month. Or 50,000 words of one, at any rate. It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve participated in it twice. Darcy Patel, the main character in this novel, gets a book deal for her NaNo novel.

There are often books where the main character is a writer, but they don’t often get it right. It’s more of a poetic description of writing. This one, however, did it right. Darcy Patel acknowledges that writing is really rewriting, and spends a heck of a lot of effort rewriting her novel.

So bonus points for that.

The OTHER half of the book is her actual story.


That’s the other thing: it’s really, really meta, and satirical, and smart.

It’s a story within a story, and in both of them, there are references to other stories. It’s really self-aware, and I could see Scott Westerfeld in it. The discussions on cultural appropriation, on pen names, making fun of the “glitzy glamour” of the YA world. It was really, really cleverly written, and part of me has the feeling that a LOT of it was satire rather than taking itself seriously.

And I loved that. Lizzie’s story is SUPPOSED to be cliched and a typical paranormal, because that’s part of how Scott Westerfeld is satirising his own story within a story within a story.

I know. My brain hurts too. But this book is so ridiculously clever it kind of astounds me. I think I would actually have to read it again to realise just how clever it is.


A lot of people have said they liked Lizzie’s perspective better.

I actually liked Darcy’s better – the writing world, the romance, the book tours. I did LIKE Lizzie’s, but I didn’t love it. With the two of them together, though, it was just so interesting. Throughout the book Darcy references the changes she has to make to her novel, and since it appears as a finished copy within Afterworlds, you get to see how she made those changes.

It’s a bit crazy, and it’s different. Not everyone is going to like it, because in some ways it’s a bit too different, experimental, whatever. But I thought it was really, really unique and clever.

Another common complaint is that it’s too long.

And I mean, yeah, it is long. It’s like 600 pages. That’s because it’s really two books in one – the story of Darcy, and the story of Lizzie (Lizzie’s story is referenced at one point at about 60,000 words – if that’s pretty much the same in the final draft, the whole book is probably around 120,000 words, which is a LOT of words).

It didn’t feel too long for me. Switching between the two stories meant there was always something interesting going on. Also, with the copy I had, the edges of Lizzie’s story were outlined in grey, so from the top, you could see how long each chapter was. Like so:

Β afterworlds (2)

So I really liked that.

I just really, really, really liked it.

And, sure, it won’t be for everyone. And I might not have done the best job at explaining it. But this is probably one of the most unique books I’ve ever read.

If you’d like to read a review that sums up my thoughts MUCH better than I can, here is an amazing review of it.

Rating: 4.5/5 Wonderkitties


22 thoughts on “Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld: stories within stories

  1. I read this last week. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I enjoyed reading the review of someone who did love it. I liked Lizzie’s story more, but I wish it had the good characters and relationships from Darcy’s.

  2. I’ve been really curious about this book but, like you, have seen all the negative/DNF reviews floating around. I’m glad you loved it though! I’m a big fan of satire so I’m very curious about this book now. And–guilty pleasure–I love long books. I don’t know why. I just feel obliged to gobble them up! Fantastic, detailed review, Emily! <33 x

  3. This is an awesome review/ I gave this book 4 stars (it is really good!) and I loved the characters. I’m one of those people who liked Darcy’s chapters better. My favorite part was probably the theory about celebrities and them not existing in films (what was that called?)

  4. I have been interested in this book ever since I saw it was going to be released and now I’m even more excited to read it! A story within a story sounds unconventional but a really interesting concept. I love the sound of all the writing/publishing elements in there as well so I think I’m definitely going to buy a copy πŸ™‚ Fantastic review Emily!

  5. It’s such an interesting and unique concept! I haven’t bothered to pick it up because I wasn’t a huge fan of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, and I’ve been seeing a lot of negative reviews for this one as well. I am intrigued by the book, but I don’t think I will be picking it up immediately. I love how this is essentially a satirical take on the publishing world, something that no other author has been brave enough to attempt. I want to read the book just for Westerfeld’s take on that. Wonderful review Em, glad you loved it so much!

    • It is, isn’t it? I was so intrigued once I saw the first reviews coming in. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Uglies series either – read like the first two and gave up after that. But yes, I’ve definitely never read a satire on the publishing world – especially in YA. In fact, I rarely read satire at ALL in YA so this was really awesome πŸ™‚

  6. *I like big books and I cannot lie!* LOL, seriously though, I do. A 600 pg book doesn’t faze me, epic fantasy is one of my fav genres so I’m use to big books. And I love books about writers, and stories within stories so I cannot wait to get my hands on it. Which I won’t be able to until November. Sigh. Glad you loved this one. Great review, thanks for sharing.

    • HAHA. I wish I was the same. But 600 pages is quite a big commitment for something you might not like, I guess. Although I guess since I like contemporary YA I’m used to the shorter books πŸ˜› OOooh, I hope you get to read it come November (and enjoy it!). I really did love it πŸ˜€

  7. Hmmmmm, I think I’ll give this one a go now. I wasn’t too keen on it before after all the negativity towards it, but you’ve swayed me to give it a go πŸ˜€ Love your review!! P.S. Not confusing at all! haha it’s just how you said the book was, you need to re-read it to fully understand it!


    Even more so after reading your wonderful review. I’m definitely going to give it a chance — at least. I kind of prefer to read novels that are shorter… though I’d never NOT read a novel because it’s so big. πŸ™‚

    And also, I’ve never read anything by this author before, and I’m constantly hearing great things about him, which makes me want to read this one even more.


      I prefer short novels as well. Although given that Wanderland is probably going to get LONGER in revisions, maybe I need to, ah, revise that opinion.

      You haven’t read the Uglies series, then? I read the first two, but they weren’t amazing so I kind of gave up πŸ˜›

  9. Feeling the love with that gif <33 I actually didn't know that tl;dr meant until now so THANK YOU. I've read a lot of reviews for this one and I am on the fence about whether I am going to pick this one up. I am so glad that you loved it–especially for it's publishing aspect.

    Fantastic review, Em! <33

    • As soon as I saw it, I was like “that is TOTALLY Mel.” Hahhaha I didn’t know either! It’s such a weird slang thingy. Meme? I don’t even know. Pretty sad given how much time I spend on the internet. I hope you enjoy it if you end up reading it πŸ˜›

  10. Pingback: Stacking the Shelves and finishing Wanderland | The Loony Teen Writer

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