Scott Westerfeld's latest novel, Afterworlds is a book about a teenager who's just sold her first book. It's a story-within-a-story, and it works brilliantly. Cory Doctorow unpacks the nesting tales of Darcy Patel and Elizabeth Scofield.

Darcy Patel is a precocious teenager who smashed out a 60,000-word supernatural romance in 30 days in her senior year. Now, contract in hand, she's deferring college, packing her bags and moving from Philadelphia to New York City, where she's going to spend some of her gigantic advance to rent an apartment and start a life that will be occupied by rewriting her book and digging in on the untitled, nonspecific sequel her agent sold as part of the deal.

Lizzie Scofield is a teenager who's travelling from New York — where she's been meeting her father's young new girlfriend — back to California where she lives with her bitter mother, when terrorists attack Dallas-Fort Worth airport while she's changing planes. As bullets fly around her, she drops down to play dead, and finds herself in a place between the living and the dead, insubstantial and in the company of a Veddic death-god, Lord Yama.

Lizzie is Darcy's protag, and while Darcy's lead something of a charmed life, she is about to discover that the writing that came so easily when she pounded out a novel in a fury in her bedroom is a lot harder to tame when there's six figures on the table. She's also falling in love for the first time, with another debut YA novelist, and learning to live on her own, to question her work, worth and art.

Meanwhile, Lizzie is learning to explore the underworld, discovering the dark truth that's haunted her mother all her life, discovering that there are worse things than ghosts in the underworld.

Lizzie's tale is spun and respun while Darcy learns the rules of real life and big-city, high-stakes living. On the way, Westerfeld spins a story of art and representation, appropriation and authenticity, commercial reality and personal integrity. There are fistfuls of wonderful, lovable characters here, even the spear-carriers are likable and well-drawn. And Lizzie's story has moments of real terror, neck-prickling spookiness that's no less scary for being a story made up by a made up storyteller.

It's a fabulous conceit and a masterful accomplishment. Stylistically, it's closer to So Yesterday and Peeps than it is to the Uglies or the Goliath books. But it's unmistakably Westerfeld, in full command of a prodigious talent, doing something complicated and difficult and making it look easy, even as it grabs you and drags you through its dark streets, laughing and crying along with both Darcy and Lizzie.

-Cory Doctorow