Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Scott Westerfeld is my go-to choice for teens who are reluctant to read. He writes books that appeal to fantasy fans, girls, boys, straight and gay. His Uglies series has been a favorite of mine since high school and since discovering Leviathan I have recommended it to everyone I know. But even if he didn’t have an amazing track record of books that appeal to a large audience, I would be shouting my praises of Afterworlds from the rooftops.
Afterworlds is the kind of book that makes you think about reading and writing and, as an educator, that’s the kind of book that I can get behind. The book has multiple storylines: the “real world” with a young newly signed author, and the “book world” the author creates with a young girl who talks to ghosts. There’s not anything more meta than that! The storylines are intertwined in interesting and thought-provoking ways — for instance, when the young heroine, Darcy, finds herself in a new relationship, we get to see the way that it affects her writing of Lizzie’s story.
On top of the obvious draws (romance, danger, adventure) there are a myriad of other reasons to pick up this book. I don’t know that I have ever read a novel that manages to touch on so many issues without seeming like an overly preachy episode of Seventh Heaven. I particularly love the way Westerfeld handles sexuality in this book. All too often books that feature a gay character focus on their coming out story, not their whole story. In Afterworlds, being gay is a part of the story, but is more background than foreground for the characters. Westerfeld also manages to include an eloquent dialogue on the way that religion and race are co-opted in novels. The writers group who meet in Afterworld toy with world-building and whether an author of a particular ethnic background has any more “right” to tell a story than an author from the “outside.” It is heady stuff but wrapped in a fun story!
Finally, Westerfeld places his novel firmly in discussion with the conversation currently surrounding young adult literature. With characters who are obviously versions of popular YA novelists, Westerfeld manages to make fun of the genre and those who write YA. He acknowledges the crazy world that glorifies some YA writers (coughJohnGreencough) while demonizing others.