Monday, November 15, 2010

Extra points for participation

You may have heard this summer's buzz surrounding Jodi Lynn Anderson’s (bestselling author of Peaches) Loser/Queen (Simon & Schuster), an “interactive” novel for which cyber fans voted weekly on turns in the plot. With the paperback edition’s release date of December 21 approaching, and the ARC landing in the Horn Book offices, I came to wonder if the summer’s hype speaks for anything beyond a very marketable idea.

The story follows Cammy, a typical high school “loser” who has more in common with the grandparents who raise her than she does with her classmates. She begins receiving mysterious text messages revealing secrets that bring down the most popular kids at school, and after a make-over facilitated by her mysterious “White Rabbit” texter, Cammy moves up the social ladder. Though the story of outcast turned teen queen is nothing new, Cammy is relatable -- especially so, I’m sure, to the readers who helped shape her actions online. The fact that these readers’ imaginations helped create the novel will probably make them want to own what feels in part already theirs. But, even if the paperback and e-book editions sell like hotcakes with web fans, what about those who did not participate in the online plot-planning? I didn’t, and I was underwhelmed because, marketable idea aside, the story itself is not a homerun. It needs the hype; it needs the extra points it earned by letting readers participate.

Loser/Queen does not bend genres or break fictional ground, but it does reexamine what it means to create a work of fiction. Luring readers with the invitation to participate in the creative process might catch on. Sure, this strategy may seem gimmicky to some, but to me it seems visionary. Come on, who doesn’t like to feel included? Personally, I’ll be watching for more of the like (and rooting for more exciting outcomes).

-- Katrina Hedeen

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