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Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Afterworlds

Three stars! Two plots for the price of one! Paranormal romance WITH commentary on the paranormal romance genre! A book for book lovers! Publishing trivia sprinkled throughout! Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld is a door stopper of a book with a lot to say — about the intricacies of publishing, the craft of writing, the art of pulling stories from life, and the strange compulsion that asks people to take on the challenge and stress of sharing words with total strangers. 

The immediate characters stand out as believable, flawed, interesting people — and relate to each other in fascinating ways. Lizzie and Darcy share the lead and are such interesting complements to each other — Lizzie’s impulsivity and brash actions, Darcy’s tendency to stew and worry and be neurotic. But they also share a sense of naivety and their immature sides have elements of self destruction. Almost every time I put in a post-it, it was to mark another time when Darcy managed to say a perfectly awesome and simultaneously perfectly teenagery thing (her improvised speech at the high school author visit, her blurting out her relationship with Imogen). It’s interesting that even though she’s not as spontaneous as Lizzie, Darcy still manages to act on gut-lodged instinct. And then there’s Jamie’s generosity, Imogen’s perspective, Nisha’s surety: all effective foils for the two main characters.

The interlocking plots are smooth, engaging. The Lizzie side of the story shifts effortlessly from action to creepy to outright horror (the four ghost girls in the bad man’s yard locking on to Lizzie). Darcy’s plot involves so many firsts (paycheck, rent check, kiss, professional cocktails), and it’s fascinating to watch her navigate through her immaturity in such a grown up world. We are waiting for her to fail just as she’s waiting to be discovered as an imposter. Each beat in one plot complements a beat in another; the rhythm they make together is complicated and satisfying.

Really, watching the two plots ricochet off each other is maybe the most fun part of the book. All the talk of closets leads to some major tension over a stolen closet scene. Imogen’s experimental car trunk scene becomes Lizzie’s two adrenaline-filled car rides. Reading about Carla and Sagan walking in to Darcy’s new life becomes watching Lizzie trying to figure out how to communicate with Jamie. Darcy’s coming out to her parents mirrors Lizzie’s “coming out” to Jamie. The two love relationships in the stories reflect and refract with each other as they twist together and diverge.

At heart, this is a deliciously meta reading experience. From the ending that keeps getting talked about (until it finally and irrevocably arrives) to the discussions on cultural appropriation that is mirrored by the plot of Darcy appropriating her mother’s story as the kernel of her novel (and then that is used as the basis for the non-existent sequel), there are threads to chase and connections to be made. Like, for days. There are ghosts that are so numerous, there’s even a ghost-y plot floating through the narrative; the references to Darcy’s original plot before rewriting,  are there, hanging out in the text — ghost elements that have been excised out in this novel about ghosts and death.. Look. This is a novel that is crafted, artisanal style. But it doesn’t really feel like it’s trying too hard, it doesn’t show all the work, it’s just there, subtle, waiting to be noticed. That duck saying: nothing to see here, you don’t see all the paddling beneath.

There are some flaws. Imogen just coming back feels a little simple (even if it’s explainable — we’re pretty limited to Darcy’s point of view, so of course she just reappears and, hey, has a best seller. But we don’t see that work happen on the page and it seemed a little too tidy). Sometimes maybe the dialogue is a too polished or flip; as a result, the other YA writers blend slightly (unless you know their hybridized origins, I suspect. I only have guesses). But mostly these are minor complaints that might not even be a thing upon further consideration.

Overall, this is a strong contender, at least by my reading. What do you all think?

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About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. I totally agree, Sarah! I went into this one not sure what to expect. Imagine my surprise when I got to the end and realized that I had read not one but two distinct stories. I’ve always admired Westerfeld’s writing, but here as you say, it is really taken to a new level as things come together so seamlessly. I really appreciated that Darcy is very grounded in her teenage self as she navigates this adult world while Lizzie is allowed the slightly more grown up work of fighting crime as it were. I also really loved the diversity to be found here and the thoughtfulness brought to all of the writing discussions found in Darcy’s half of the story (which might factor even more in the non-fiction writing book Westerfeld is going to release next). I’m really hoping this book gets lots of attention come awards season.

  2. I LOVED it! I just really thought it was fun. I’m hoping it blows up. It also doesn’t have the problem I tended to have with early Scott Westerfeld: would take me forever to actually get into the book.

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