Navigating the Literary Cosmos: A Comprehensive Exploration of “Afterworlds” by Scott Westerfeld


Scott Westerfeld, renowned for his contributions to young adult literature, takes readers on a captivating literary journey with “Afterworlds.” Published in 2014, this innovative novel offers a unique blend of contemporary realism and supernatural fantasy. In this extensive review, we delve into the intricacies of “Afterworlds,” exploring its dual narrative structure, thematic richness, and the interplay between the author’s imaginative world-building and the challenges faced by an aspiring young writer.

Dual Narrative Structure

“At its heart, “Afterworlds” unfolds as a dual narrative, skillfully weaving together two distinct but interconnected stories. The novel alternates between chapters that follow Darcy Patel, a young and aspiring writer, and excerpts from the novel she pens within the narrative. This dual-layered structure adds layers of complexity and depth, allowing readers to simultaneously experience the real-world challenges of a budding author and immerse themselves in the fantastical realm of the novel-within-a-novel.

Darcy Patel’s Story

The novel begins with Darcy Patel’s journey as an eighteen-year-old who decides to defer college in pursuit of her dream to become a published author. Darcy’s narrative explores the challenges faced by aspiring writers—rejections, revisions, and the daunting task of navigating the publishing industry. As readers follow Darcy’s attempts to balance her passion for writing with the realities of the literary world, they gain insights into the creative process, the significance of perseverance, and the sacrifices involved in pursuing one’s dreams.

The Novel-within-a-Novel

Alternating with Darcy’s story is the unfolding narrative of “Afterworlds,” the novel she is writing. This supernatural fantasy introduces readers to Lizzie Scofield, a young girl who survives a terrorist attack and discovers her newfound ability to cross into the “Afterworld.” In this paranormal realm, Lizzie encounters spirits, undertakes a journey of self-discovery, and becomes entangled in a mysterious plot involving a charming but enigmatic character named Yamaraj.

The parallel narratives invite readers to engage with both the challenges of the publishing world and the otherworldly adventures within “Afterworlds.” The interplay between Darcy’s reality and the fantasy world she creates adds a unique layer of metafictional richness to the novel.

Themes of Identity and Self-Discovery

Woven throughout “Afterworlds” are themes of identity and self-discovery. Darcy Patel grapples with questions of authenticity, representation, and the expectations placed on young writers. Her journey mirrors the broader exploration of identity within the novel-within-a-novel, where Lizzie Scofield undergoes a transformative quest to understand her own abilities and navigate the complexities of the Afterworld.

The thematic resonance between the two narratives highlights Westerfeld’s skill in crafting a story that transcends traditional genre boundaries. The exploration of identity extends beyond the personal realm, touching on societal expectations, cultural influences, and the ways in which individuals shape and redefine themselves in the face of external pressures.

Genre Blurring and Imaginative World-Building

Westerfeld seamlessly blends genres in “Afterworlds,” combining elements of contemporary fiction, paranormal fantasy, and metafiction. The novel-within-a-novel introduces readers to an imaginative and immersive Afterworld, a realm where spirits linger and secrets unfold. Westerfeld’s world-building is vivid and evocative, creating a fantastical backdrop that contrasts with the real-world struggles faced by Darcy Patel.

The author’s ability to transition between the grounded realism of an aspiring author’s life and the ethereal landscapes of the Afterworld showcases his narrative versatility. The genre-blurring nature of “Afterworlds” challenges traditional storytelling conventions, offering a narrative experience that defies easy categorization.

Exploration of the Publishing Industry

Darcy Patel’s narrative provides readers with a behind-the-scenes look at the publishing industry. From navigating book deals and negotiating contracts to handling edits and publicity, Westerfeld offers a candid portrayal of the challenges and intricacies of the literary world. Darcy’s journey illuminates the highs and lows of the publishing process, providing aspiring writers with a glimpse into the realities of the profession.

The inclusion of Darcy’s experiences as a writer adds an educational and informative layer to “Afterworlds,” making it not only a work of fiction but also a valuable resource for those interested in the dynamics of the publishing industry. The novel’s exploration of the business side of writing contributes to its multifaceted appeal.

Cultural and Social Commentary

Beyond its narrative complexity and genre-blurring elements, “Afterworlds” incorporates cultural and social commentary. The novel-within-a-novel touches on themes of terrorism, spirituality, and the interplay between life and death. Westerfeld integrates these elements into the broader narrative, creating a thought-provoking exploration of societal fears, belief systems, and the human condition.

The inclusion of diverse characters and perspectives within both narratives enriches the cultural tapestry of “Afterworlds.” From Darcy’s multicultural background to the characters within the Afterworld, Westerfeld reflects the diversity of contemporary society, fostering inclusivity and representation within the novel.

Critical Acclaim and Reception

“Afterworlds” received acclaim for its inventive narrative structure, thematic depth, and the seamless integration of contemporary and fantastical elements. Critics praised Westerfeld’s ability to engage readers on multiple levels, from the metafictional exploration of the writing process to the richly imagined Afterworld. The novel’s resonance with both aspiring writers and fans of speculative fiction contributed to its positive reception.

While some critics noted the ambitious nature of the novel and the potential challenges in balancing the dual narratives, the majority acknowledged the unique and ambitious storytelling that distinguishes “Afterworlds” within the realm of young adult literature.


Scott Westerfeld’s “Afterworlds” stands as a literary odyssey that transcends traditional boundaries, seamlessly blending reality and fantasy, contemporary fiction and supernatural realms. Through its dual narrative structure, thematic richness, and genre-blurring elements, the novel invites readers to explore the intricate interplay between storytelling, identity, and the multifaceted dimensions of the human experience.

Westerfeld’s imaginative world-building, coupled with the candid exploration of the publishing industry, contributes to the novel’s uniqueness within the landscape of young adult literature. “Afterworlds” is more than a novel; it is an immersive and thought-provoking literary experience that invites readers to contemplate the transformative power of storytelling and the boundless possibilities that unfold within the realms of imagination. As readers navigate the intricate tapestry of Darcy Patel’s journey and the fantastical Afterworld, they embark on a literary adventure that transcends the conventions of traditional storytelling.

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