Postponing college to visit New York in the hope of publishing her novel, Darcy Patel meets seasoned and fledgling writers who help her navigate the city and publishing industry throughout a year marked by writing and romance, while woven through her personal story is her suspenseful thriller novel about a teen who slips into the "Afterworld" to survive a terrorist attack.
*Starred Review* Eighteen-year-old Darcy drops her college plans and moves to New York to revise her soon-to-be-published novel and start the second one. Meanwhile, in chapters that alternate with Darcy's NYC adventures, her fictional protagonist, Lizzie, survives a near-death experience to find she has become a psychopomp, responsible for guiding souls to the afterlife. Westerfeld masterfully creates two divergent reading experiences (YA romance and fantasy horror) with two distinct yet believable voices in Darcy and Lizzie-and, somehow, makes them mesh into one cohesive novel. In addition to the details of the fully realized story worlds-and that's worlds plural, as this is a busy book, with content drawn from Gujarati culture and Indian religions-this novel includes romantic entanglements, a charming lesbian love story, terrorism and justice, and insider references to the YA publishing and literature scene (including several references to the Michael L. Printz Award) that will have librarians grinning in delight. Westerfeld deftly and subtly captures Darcy's immature authorial voice, even including a few underdeveloped plot points that differentiate it from his own polished prose. There are no notes about cultural sources, but an extended conversation between (fictional) YA authors explores these issues, offering a few perspectives on respect and appropriateness. Order plenty; this one won't stay on the shelves. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Westerfeld, author of the hugely popular Uglies and Leviathan series, goes meta in a big way (this thing is the size of an anvil). Expect tons of YA-world gabbing and gushing. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.
Westerfeld offers two novels in one: the story of Lizzie Scofield, a teenager who escapes a terrorist attack by somehow crossing into the afterlife and develops a relationship with a “smoldering Vedic psychopomp,” and the story of 18-year-old Darcy Patel, who has just signed a contract to publish the novel Lizzie anchors.In alternating chapters, the two books unfold. The still-living Lizzie pursues a relationship with Yamaraj, who protects newly crossed spirits from otherworldly predators, even as she negotiates her new powers to cross over and interact with ghosts, especially the little lost soul who haunts her closet. Meanwhile, Darcy decides to forgo college for the glamor of a writer’s life in New York City, struggling to revise Afterworlds and draft Untitled Patel as she watches her $300,000 advance vanish into agent commissions, rent, and fancy, foodie ramen. She also enters the tightknit, often bitchy world of YA writers, where she meets and falls for Imogen. Westerfeld clearly has a good time here, but he resists broad satire, focusing on Darcy’s coming-of-age as a writer who’s got the “juice.” Likewise, Darcy’s novel isn’t half bad, displaying a control that’s missing from far too many paranormal debuts. Readers who pay attention will see how Darcy’s learning curve plays out and how she incorporates and transmutes her real-world experiences into her novel.Watching Darcy’s story play off Darcy’s novel will fascinate readers as well as writers. (Fiction. 14 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
THE MOST IMPORTANT EMAIL THAT Darcy Patel ever wrote was three paragraphs long.
The first was about Darcy herself. It skipped the trifling details, her dyed blue-black hair and the slim gold ring in her left nostril, and began instead with a grim secret that her parents had never told her. When Darcy’s mother was eleven years old, her best friend was murdered by a stranger. This discovery, chanced upon during an idle web search, both shocked Darcy and made certain things about her mother clearer. It also inspired her to write.
The second paragraph of the email was about the novel Darcy had just finished. She didn’t mention, of course, that all sixty thousand words of Afterworlds had been written in thirty days. The Underbridge Literary Agency hardly needed to know that. Instead, this paragraph described a terrorist attack, a girl who wills herself to die, and the bewitching boy she meets in the afterworld. It promised skulking ghosts and the traumas that haunt families, and little sisters who are more clever than they appear. Using the present tense and short sentences, Darcy set the scene, thumbnailed the characters and their motivations, and teased the conclusion. This was the best of the three paragraphs, she was later told.
The third paragraph was pure flattery, because Darcy wanted very much for the Underbridge Literary Agency to say yes to her. She praised the breadth of their vision and paid tribute to their clients’ genius, even while daring to compare herself to those illustrious names. She explained how her novel was different from the other paranormals of the last few years (none of which had a smoldering Vedic psychopomp as its love interest).
This email was not a perfect query letter. But it did its job. Seventeen days after pressing Send, Darcy was signed to Underbridge, a flourishing and respected literary agency, and not long after that she had a two-book deal for an astonishing amount of money.
Only a handful of challenges remained—high school graduation, a perilous decision, and parental approval—before Darcy Patel would be packing her bags for New York City.