Human and Non-Human Characters as Tools for Helping Readers Negotiate Climate Anxiety in Young Adult Fiction

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Inspired by Marco Caracciolo’s recent publication on how narratives practices contribute to a ‘negotiation’ of climate anxiety, this study explores elements in YA fictional texts which have the potential to foster such a negotiation among adolescent readers. Earlier studies in YA fiction have pointed out that exemplary texts within this genre often feature resilient and resourceful adolescent characters which possess an empowering agency – a willingness to take action to realise social change (Adami 132; Laakso, Lahtinen and Samola 53; Mallan 17; Morton and Lounsbury 53). In addition, literary scholarship illustrates that some YA fictions critically engage with cultural perceptions of how humans relate to non-human beings like animals, which might promote the critical thinking required for constructive pro-environmental behaviour (Yampell 219; Ostry 233). In this study, I focus on the narrative function of the human protagonists and the non-human animals and AI entities in three recent anglophone YA novels, namely Jelly (2019) by Clare Rees, The Last Whale (2022) by Chris Vick and The End of the World is Bigger Than Love (2020) by Davina Bell. For my analysis, I used a combined theoretical approach of econarratology, literary animal criticism and critical AI. I primarily draw from David Herman’s continuum for non-human animal experiences and Caracciolo’s notion of inaccessible animal minds for my analysis of animal characters, and including notions of magical thinking in the conceptualisation of AI from the critical AI approach for my analysis of the representation of an AI entity. The main argument of this study is that empathy for resilient and resourceful human protagonists in YA fiction promotes productive coping behaviour in the reader in the face of climate change-related pessimism, while a non-human presence in YA texts invites the protagonists, and therefore the reader, to critically reflect on animal and environmental issues and to re-evaluate the human-nonhuman relationship.
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