Time of Turmoil : Reading and Media Combination in the American Young Adult Novels Cathy’s Book, Skeleton Creek, and Endgame

Abstract: In the beginning of the twenty-first century, Young Adult (YA) fiction experienced a renaissance, and YA novels began to appear on the best-seller lists in the US. Around the same time, many reports sounded alarms about rapidly declining rates of fiction reading among young adults. Often, such alarms identified an increased usage of the Internet in various forms as a possible culprit. In an attempt both to retain interest in YA fiction and to capitalize on the growing Internet usage among teens, many writers began to experiment with novel forms of storytelling that combined print fiction with other media. This study focuses on three such American YA novels to show a spectrum of experimental endeavors: Cathy’s Book: If Found Call (650) 266-8233 (2006), Skeleton Creek: Ryan’s Journal (2009), and Endgame: The Calling (2014). The novels are analyzed for their ways of combining media and forging specific “reading paths” through what I call nudges – the implicit and explicit instructions to the reader. In all three novels, reading is characterized by interruptions as the reader is asked to shift between media to access parts of the story and (re)construct the plot. This interrupted reading, I claim, has the function of drawing attention to the medium of storytelling. Therefore, media consciousness becomes a significant part of reading and this, I claim, supplements what Jonathan Culler has named “literary competence.” My study continues the revision of Culler’s understanding of literary competence that Maria Nikolajeva has undertaken for children’s literature. In particular, I draw on Nikolajeva’s set of interpretative codes and expand them for reading multimedia novels.In the introduction of the dissertation, I situate the three novels that I analyze within the context of YA fiction and teen reading and present the key frameworks for my analysis: media studies and theories of reading. In my first analytical chapter, focusing on Cathy’s Book, I explore how media combination promotes a reading based on ordering and detection. I further explore how media combination requires readers to critically assess each medium’s authenticity, concluding that source criticism and media consciousness are central competences promoted by the book. In the second analytical chapter, I explore how print and videos are “stitched” together in Skeleton Creek: Ryan’s Journal; this “stitching” of the media results in a “seamfull” reading process, the seams drawing attention to the semiotic significance of the medium of storytelling. Studying Endgame: The Calling in the last analytical chapter, I investigate what shape the reading process takes when the fictional work mimics games, and the print book itself contains a game. Endgame, I show, promotes “gamified reading” whose logic leads to the physical destruction of the print book. In the concluding chapter, I reflect on the significance of expanding Culler’s concept of literary competence in conjunction with how multimedia novels make use of metalepsis to raise concerns and queries about the distinction between ontological realms and the boundaries of the novel. Lastly, I consider some paths forward for research on reading and multimedia fiction.

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