A Story In A Story

AfterworldsAfterworlds, by Scott Westerfeld, was published in 2014. It is a Young Adult novel. An internet search for “a story within a story” lead me to this book.

Darcy Patel is in her senior year of high school. She has written the first draft of a Young Adult novel named Afterworlds, which has been accepted by Underbridge Literary Agency. Darcy has signed a two-book deal with Underbridge. She’s decided that, if she can get her parents’ permission, she’s going to defer college for a year, move to New York City, finish her book, start her sequel, and learn about the publishing industry.

Afterworlds (the novel by Scott Westerfeld) is presented in alternating characters. The unbordered chapters are the story of Darcy Patel, the writer. The chapters with black borders are Afterworlds, the novel by Darcy Patel.

Afterworlds (the novel by Darcy Patel) is the story of Lizzie, a girl who is caught in the middle of a terrorist attack. Following the advice of a 911 operator, Lizzie pretends to be dead in order to survive the attack.

Darcy has a tough time selling her parents on her plan, until they realize that, with the money from her book deal, Darcy would be disqualified from financial aid, and paying for college would be a struggle. Besides, Darcy points out, New York City is closer to home than the college in Ohio.

Lizzie discovers that she’s done too good a job of pretending to be dead. She finds herself in an afterworld – a living person in the land of the dead. Lizzie is greeted by a young girl named Yami, and her older brother (Lizzy’s age) named Yamaraj. Yami is a ghost. Yamaraj is “something else”, according to Yami, something just like Lizzie. Yami leads the ghosts of the victims to a safer place. Yamaraj (Lord Yama) leads Lizzie to a safer place. Before she returns to the land of the living, Yamaraj whispers in Lizzie’s ear: “Believing is dangerous, Lizzie. But if you need me, call me. I’ll be there.

The odd-numbered chapters continue with the story of a young adult entering the publishing world with a book she’d written using elements of her parents’ religion. The even-numbered chapters continue with the story of a young adult who becomes involved with Hindu gods, and can now see ghosts. Darcy adjusts to life in New York City. Lizzy adjusts to the afterworlds.

At around 600 pages long, there is a lot more going on in this book than either a debut writer finding inspiration for her second novel, or a new psychopomp with a crush on a god of death.

There is an awesome thing that happens in this book. Friends and editors give Darcy feedback on various scenes in her book. Those scenes have either shown up earlier in the black bordered chapters, or seem unfamiliar because they won’t show up until later. There’s a whole scene discussed that doesn’t show up at all, because it got edited out. It’s like seeing a book written while you read it.

There’s a recurring question of theft-versus-inspiration as Darcy and her fellow authors use elements from their lives, other people’s lives, and other authors’ books in their novels. I have no doubt that Scott Westerfeld used elements of his life as a YA author to tell the story of Darcy Patel, the YA author.

There’s a weird thing with names that happens in this book, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Darcy writes about a character named Elizabeth. Darcy’s friends from school are named Carla and Sagan. The weird thing is, people in Darcy’s chapters point out how funny these names are. It’s a self-referential element in a book about a book with the same name as the book itself.

Afterworlds (the novel by Scott Westerfeld) contains a couple of romances and a scary ghost story. It’s a story based in reality and it’s a fantasy. It contains humor and terror. It’s about writing and it’s about religion. It’s a mystery story. It’s deep, thought-provoking, and laugh out loud funny. All of these elements work together well into a cohesive whole. It’s an amazing book.

I loved this book. Its stories, both of them, drew me in. I’d get to the end of a Darcy chapter, not wanting it to end, feeling slightly interrupted by the upcoming Lizzy chapter. Then I didn’t want the Lizzy chapter to end, and so on. Then the entire book was over, and I’m feeling rather empty, as if the book is already fading into the afterwords.

  • A book that is a story within a story

2 thoughts on “A Story In A Story

  1. It sounds like the story is not done. A sequel coming? I am not sure what is intended by the names, either. Elizabeth-Darcy and Carl-Sagan? Is it supposed to be funny, an inside joke, or is the author giving tribute to characters which are now part of our culture, they are either real people or “real” in our literary experience?

    • Not a spoiler, but Darcy does come up with the rough outline for a sequel, eventually.

      As for the funny names, I see it as sort of a “truth stranger than fiction” thing. In Darcy’s world (the “real” world), people can and do have strange names. But she wouldn’t be able to get away with that in her novel.

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