Revisiting my YA Hero

| October 9, 2017 | 0 Comments

I have memories of Scott Westerfeld filling up the hours in my life and imagination in middle school and early high school, particularly with his Leviathan and Uglies series. That was back when modern YA was a fledgling genre, when The Hunger Game had just come out and Twilight was still all the rage.

As the genre grew bigger, I grew out of it. I dived into the world of “adult” literature and the YA world moved on without me. And yet, when I heard Westerfeld had come out with another novel, Afterworlds, the glimmering sheen of nostalgia eventually lured me back into the literary world of my teens.

More experimental than his other novels, this one contains two alternating stories, that of a first-time author and of her YA novel.

The author: Darcy Patel won’t be going to college after she graduates high school. Instead, in a stroke of marvelous luck, her YA novel was picked up by a publisher and now she plans on moving to New York City to become a real author. As if struggling with rewrites and doing “adult” things wasn’t enough, she quickly finds herself falling in love with another writer.

The novel: Lizzie is a senior in high school when she gets trapped in an airport during a terrorist attack. She pretends to play dead to avoid detection, only she plays the part a little too well and ends up in the afterworld, the land between the living and the dead. There she meets Yamaraj, a spirit guide whom she shares an instant connection with. He quickly helps her back to the real world, and in the weeks after the attack, as she herself starts to become a spirit guide, their connection grows into something intense and even dangerous.

photo credit: chiaralily Choose Your Own Adventure via photopin (license)

photo credit: chiaralily Choose Your Own Adventure via photopin (license)

It was interesting trying to go back into the teenage mindset. The thing with YA novels is that they are often simplified, more plot driven than anything else, which is fine. But I couldn’t help but feel how shallow everything was at times.

The potential for complexity was there. The concept lends itself to intricate interweaving of two plotlines, or at least a commentary between the relationship between author and product. However, save Darcy’s struggle to find an ending for Lizzie and Yamaraj, there are very little correlations between the two worlds. It felt like I was reading two different novels, so separate and unconnected they were.

The simple road was also taken with Darcy’s storyline. I mean, what are the odds that a recent high school grad would get at $100,000 publishing contract for a book that she wrote during one month (probably during NaNoWriMo)? The whole thing felt like one big wish fulfilling fan-service. I mean, what teenage aspiring-novelist hasn’t dreamed of a chance to live in New York City, become friends with all their favorite authors, and go on tour with a YouTube star?

Sure, providing insider details to flesh out teenagers’ dreams isn’t necessarily bad and can even be interesting. But the thing that eventually bugged me the most was the lack of a downside. Things were basically perfect. NYC was expensive, but Darcy had $100,000 to work with so she wasn’t exactly destitute. The tour was tiring, but there weren’t any logistical hiccups or unappreciative audiences. The other YA authors were intimidating, but there weren’t any jackasses or drama queens. It was, as Westerfeld pointed out several times, “YA Heaven.”

But as I write this, I wonder: Am I simply asking too much of this novel? It is a YA book after all, and like I said before, they tend to be simple and fairly straight-forward. They are easy to read and easy to dream about. That’s why teenagers and tweens love them so. So, following that line of reasoning, would I’ve thought differently in my t(w)eens?

I don’t know, and I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer. I just can’t unravel all the knowledge that I’ve learned since I left the YA world behind and look at things with a teenage mindset anymore. All I have left are the memories of the time when I feverously gobbled up Westerfeld’s words. Part of me wishes I could turn back the clock and be able to read this book in that way. But I guess part of growing up is moving on and waving a fond good-bye to your old heroes.

featured photo credit: chiaralily Choose Your Own Adventure via photopin (license)

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Category: Art and Literature, featured, Reflections

Violet Acevedo

About the Author ()

Stories, fictional and nonfictional, have always fascinated me. The desire to discover new stories is why I moved from Austin, Texas to Boston to go to school. The drive to learn about capturing stories is why I am in the College of Communication. And the need to express stories is why I write for this blog.

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