I say "half paranormal, half contemporary" because with this book, Westerfeld decided to write two stories in alternating chapters--one tale follows the journey of teenager Darcy Patel: a young girl who wrote her novel, Afterworlds, in 30 days during NaNoWriMo and managed to be signed by a publisher. She travels to New York and discovers the world of publishing--the whole "behind-the-scenes" of books. The other story is literally the one she's writing: her paranormal romance book Afterworlds. This book is about a girl named Lizzie who travels to the underworld after a near-death experience and then slowly starts turning into an escort of the dead, all the while falling in love with the lord of death.
The tagline for this book is "Darcy writes the words. Lizzie lives them." This, in my opinion, is quite misleading. When I picked up this book at BookExpo America, I thought that it was a story about a girl who writes the life of another girl, kind of Ruby Sparks-esque. Nope. For some reason, this really bothered me--the way that the two characters never met. It made me feel like Westerfeld might have written two separate books, thought they were both publish-worthy, and then slapped them together. The stories are just so different that they would be better as separate books.
Both of the narratives are written well.They would be very successful seperately, especially with Westerfeld's numerous fans grasping for the young adult material that he executes so artfully. But Darcy's story in the real world was so much more interesting than the although well-written, still formulaic story of Lizzie and her paranormal romance. I mean, what extremely successful young adult book written today doesn't include some kind of paranormal/rebellious romance? I'm pretty sure there are only two or three that come to the top of my head. On the other hand, I've never seen the story of a young writer in New York before--it was something that deeply interested me--Darcy's struggles and triumphs were such a new thing to read about in YA literature. It really educated me on what goes on as a newbie in the literary world.
One thing that I loved about Darcy's story was the fact that Westerfeld didn't make a huge deal about the fact that Darcy was lesbian. This, in my opinion, was a great way to show younger audiences, who might not have a view on LGBT rights yet, that love is simply love. Darcy's friends brought it up once or twice, but the main point of her dating a woman was the romance between them. It was the same as any other relationship, which I think is important to educate people about.
Afterworlds was an engaging read for the most part, but I liked one narrative more than the other, which, unfortunately, ultimately made me want to finish the book just to gain closure with one character and not so much the other. Both were still well-written, but if an author is going to write a story with alternating stories and split chapters, they should make sure that the reader will be interested in both stories equally.