Scott Westerfeld

Penguin Books Australia
24 September 2014


Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld is renowned in the YA fiction market, this is a perfect blend of contemporary love story and fantastical thriller.

Darcy has secured a publishing deal for her three paranormal books. Now she must find the wherewithall to write the second one whilst she has a reprieve from going to college, thanks to her savvy sister. She has enough funds for 3 years in NY…if she eats only noodles every day.

In the story Darcy has written, the character Lizzie survives a traumatic shooting event only to discover that she has become a phsychopomp; a spirit guide to the dead. But she’s not dead. or is she? With one foot in each world, Lizzie’s challenges are somewhat unique. Then there’s her hot spirit guide…and all those ghosts that keep appearing…and the ‘living’ friend she usually tells everything to…More than all I’d seen and heard. It was coming back to life that made me believe in the afterworld.


Praise to Westerfeld for imagining a fresh approach to young adult fiction that doesn’t recreate the dystopian social drama which has so popularised this genre of late. With this novel, he cleverly juxtaposes the stories of Lizzie and Darcy who live in alternate, yet intrinsically-linked, realities: Darcy is an emerging young adult writer who’s just signed a two-book publishing deal; Lizzie is the protagonist of the former’s debut novel, ‘Afterworlds’.

In the explosive opening chapter we first meet Lizzie who is in the midst of a random terrorist attack at a US airport. As the sole survivor, Lizzie’s primal instinct to play dead not only saves her from the terrorists’ guns, but also opens a doorway to the afterworld – a place where ghosts linger for as long as they are remembered. Here, Lizzie meets the Lord of Death, a community of lost souls and the darker threats that lurk there. She also gains unfettered access between the worlds of the living and the dead. Over time she comes to learn the relevance of her new powers.

Then to Darcy… The young author’s newly signed book gives her entry to the New York publishing scene as one of its newest star recruits. It seems she has arrived in literary heaven and she becomes immersed in the frenzied, highly competitive publishing market. Survival as a writer is tough in a world where high sales and being supported by other young adult authors is the difference between anonymity and memorialisation.

These two narratives merge together effortlessly, mutually supporting one another. Though, I can’t help feeling a preference for Darcy’s story given the allure of publishing life. After finishing the last page, I’m left marvelling at the existential questions raised by this work, and at the power of memory and perception to give meaning to our world.

Natalie Platten

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