Multimedia, BABY! Oh yeah, The Amanda Project is ALL that… described as a collaborative, interactive mystery told on both the website (social media) and in an eight book series from HarperCollins (Harperteen).
But what I’m discovering is that, so far, each multimedia “book” I’ve reviewed has had a distinctly different reader impact experience. Seriously different. (And a major learning curve for me each time!)
Quick recap and comparison, Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek and Ghost in the Machine are total book/video hybrids, like the purest form of multimedia storytelling. Completely intertwined to the degree that one loses story continuity without the other… enjoyable entertainment while providing readers with a novel experience. The online videos are quality “mini films”, not merely links to photos and what not. In contrast, the delightful 39 Clues books are enhanced by the online games, problem solving puzzles, prizes and activities, but you CAN just read the books without going online and still follow the Cahill story. Of course you can also log in and just enjoy the games and stuff (but without the cards, which come in the books, you’d miss a major puzzle piece). With Cathy’s Book (LOVE her!) again, the book stands alone, but listening to the private vmails is “furtive fun”, thereby enhancing the story with phone numbers, apps and the website.
The Amanda Project (TAP) is a freaking living breathing phenomenon, like whoa hold on to your hat. But again, I believe the original story in the book stands alone. But why on earth would you want it to? Not a hybrid, you CAN just read book one, invisible i (the first of 8), and get the clue packed, loose-end embedded story and wait, not so patiently, for the next book due later this year. However, this book was constructed to lure teens into the continuing world of the mysterious Amanda Valentino and figure out what happened to her at the conclusion of the book. (Dude, she’s missing, and so is Callie’s mom, connected?). I mean, it’s like stepping off a cliff and not falling. Impossible.
The story is seasoned with open ended questions to seduce the reader, with no obvious will of her own, to go online, create a TAP character for his or herself (do you want to be a high school “Enders Spirit” cheerleader, the guy selling box office tix in the local Orion movie theater, an Endeavor High School teacher?) and start debating and speculating with the other fans their theories of who is and what happened to, Amanda Valentino.
When I first heard about TAP, the tag line I caught was something about a 15 year old High School girl who disappears. I was like, oy vey, ugh. Sounds upsetting… like some sick perpetrator snags this lovely child on her way home or whatever. But now, I get it. Not at all like that. Confident, intelligent Amanda is the one in control, leaving clues, protecting her friends, yet, needing their help, for… what? No idea. My head is spinning after reading this book, and by design, I have like fifty one theories of my own, which 4th Story Media invites me along with the rest of the fans, to hop online and share them in the multiple, thought provoking chat rooms! Taking this a step further, our ideas might be published not only in the next book(s), but in The Zine they’ve created – encouraging readers to… write! Talk about multimedia raising the education and writing skills bar to the next level… this website is a teacher’s dream come true. Write write write, post art work, express yourself, but do it well or it won’t be selected. Motivation? 🙂 Book one has a “winner entry” from one of the 150 beta testers actually published on the last few pages. Sweet.
As I read this story, my feeling was that the elusive Amanda was some sort of time traveler (I love scifi and recently read Peter Lerangis’ chilling Watchers: Rewind and was apparently brainwashed). In all fairness to me, there are enough hints in invisible i to nudge me there… her odd (but way fashionable vintage) hair (wigs) and clothing, the way she reinvented herself daily, her deep caring about people and choosing them to be her “guides” as they discover their spirit totems, her wisdom in seeming to see the future, or past, or something, setting major events in motion, popping in and out of everyone’s life, maybe even being in two places at once (I swear that was almost implied!!) but online I read a bit what the fans (teenage girls 12+) are writing and apparently I’m so WAY off! (Middle aged geek collides with fab kewl youth). So we’ll see. Maybe Amanda’s a guardian angel, an alien… (sorry, can’t help it).
The “author” of all TAP books is/will be the fictional Stella Lennon, told from the different characters’ perspectives. This first book is told as a narrative of one of three of Amanda’s guides at Endeavor High School, 9th grade Callista Ursula Leary whose mother, a famous astronomer and brilliant mathematician, is missing. When Amanda befriends her, Callie is one of the “i girls”, the popular in crowd. But there are serious problems brewing in Callie’s life, and by bizarre but ingenious means, Amanda “arranges” for her to be throw in with the other two Endeavor guides who help Callie start dealing with her problems and rediscover herself. One guide, Hal Bennett, is actually a childhood friend of Callie’s who she lost along the way in becoming an i girl. Nia Riveria, the other guide, hates the i girls and Callie is less than impressed with Nia, that is, until Amanda is gone and suddenly they must rely on each other.
After swiping surveillance tape data, breaking into the Vice Principal’s office and car, investigating a local Victorian home, downtown hotel, nightclub and playhouse, the three new found friends come up bewildered and empty handed. They decide the next step is to create a website to connect to others who know Amanda to figure out her cryptic clues and hopefully learn what happened to her.
As with some other multimedia books, TAP has a coded message in the end paper and an awesome website (with built in ID protection), but also incorporated into the storytelling are Facebook, My Space and mobile phones. Get this… on the last page of the book you’ll find Cornelia’s Code (a data matrix code), with instructions to download a 2D bar code reader software on your mobile phone, a photo can then be taken of the code which launches you into a secret website with videos, messages, pictures and more! Way. Über. Cool. And future codes could be… anything! Next up signal from afar from Hal’s perspective.
So, catch you in TAP debate and story rooms… I’m still deciding what character to be and what avatar to choose, knowing that my animal totem is a horse…